Tropical Lights – Aurora Hits Hawaii

By
Updated: October 5, 2017

by Francis Ferry, NLN baseball beat writer

February 16, 2026: Kohala Coast, Hawaii – Baseball fans from around the Front Range – and beyond, were offered a special treat this year – Tropical Lights, a three-day ‘fan fest’ of events held at the Fairmont Orchid Resort on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Joining the fans rapid enough to fork over the $4,000 for the (otherwise) all-expense paid trip were a number of players, coaches and, yes, George Crocker, whom as we know, never misses a party.

As fans arrived at the airport, they were shuttled to the resort – a 60-minute journey, and they were greet at the resort by various members of the club – including new manager Kata Hayagwa, expected starting catcher Manny Castro, and play-by-play voice of the Borealis, Mark Gunter.

The evening presented fans with a ‘Meet and Greet’ with the players on hand – and management didn’t just send the first- and second-year players, the stars were on hand as well – including Mike Provost, Theron Boswell and River Pope. The newest members of the club – Tomás Flores and Clark Snow were also on hand –and quite popular with the fans as they got a chance to ‘get to know’ their latest heros.

CF Tomás Flores models Aurora’s new Weekend Collection for the PEBA’s 20th season.

Then as fans an players took their seats for dinner, GM Will Topham took the stage to make a special announcement. “The 2026 season will mark the 20th season of PEBA Baseball, and we in Aurora would like to commerate this by announcing our new 20th Anniversary Weekend Collection, which we will wear at home for all Friday and Saturday night games.” New CF Tomás Flores came out in the uniform. “We will sport hats in Aurora Green, with aurora borealis styled jerseies that have both the 20th PEBA season patch and five Championship Stars.” A general mood of approval ran through the crowd as they gave a hearty applause for the new look.

After a delicious meal of Hawaiian cuisine – mahi mahi, ono, and opah leading the way on the entrée list, the first of three Q & A’s was held during a dessert of lilikoi mousse (here’s a tip – it’s really good!). Some of the highlights of the session, moderated by the ‘Crock of Gunt’ crew:

Of Manny Castro: Mark Gunter asked, “How do you anicipate the season going as you are thrust into the role of handling a pitching staff of established vetrans?” “I hope that the advantage of their experience will help me out! I had four games at the end of last year, and I felt that went well. I’m certainly going to let Provost and Smith lead the way – I’ve so much to learn from these guys. Obviously I’ve had plenty of experience with ‘Terror’, so I feel like I’m on the same page there – and Domingo, too. We both have a lot to learn behind the plate.”

Castro has his hands full as a rookie signal caller for this experienced staff.

George Crocker asked, “Manny!!! My Man of Man of Men!! Ya gotta tell me? ‘Fido’?? What’s up with that? I mean, what kind of name is that?? Prepping yourself for handling the ‘Doberman’? Born in the Year of the Dog? Do tell Mr. Are We Not Men!!” “Well, George, they told me you didn’t disappoint, and right out the gate… So, my family is Cuban, and when I was young, my friends in East LA started calling me ‘Fido’ – I think they were trying to say ‘Fidel’ – the obvious connection with my last name. They’d all run around shouting ‘Fido, Fido, Fido’. When I was 10, we moved to Miami, to be with my mother’s Cuban relatives, and as my little brother and I started making friends, he was quick to call me ‘Fido’. I think in retrospect, there were those who took some humor in the play on words, as it were.” “Fidal? Hmmmmmm… I think I played with that guy in Bogata – Fidal Banks. He was a strong-armed leftie, brought the heat. Most guys could only get pig snorts off of him.”

‘Train Rollin” looks to continue his dominance of the SL with his Partner in Crime, ‘Tugboat’

Of Michel Provost: Mark Gunter asked, “Mike, you’re coming off a year that was a mixture of success and difficulties. Your 3.01 ERA, while nothing to scoff at, was the highest since 2018, and yet you had the highest strikout total of your career and for the 7th straight year, you lead the league in fewest BB/9. Looking at 34 by the time you’ve made your 5th start this coming season, where do you see yourself?” “Well Mark, I see myself as the leader of the staff as I have for a number of years now. Sure, ‘Tugboat’ was this past years Golden Arm, but I’ll remind the press that I finished second in the voting and I’m only a year removed from winning 3 in a row. I think it’s a mistake for people to look at my double-digit losses the past two seasons and think that I’m on the fade. Randy and I both look forward to strangling the league again.”

George Crocker asked, “Choo-Choo Man, Eh? Mr. Northern Express, Eh? The guy who put the Northern in the Lights, Eh? Tell us all – what of your upcoming contract opt-out? Are you looking to jump the Good Ship Borealis and join ‘Massacre’ out there in the Farm Land?” “No, George, I can’t think of a reason I’d end up in Bakersfield. I think ‘Massacre’ signed with the Bears out of sheer anger. I spoke to him a few times during the season and he never seemed to get over the fact he had been traded – and frankly, I think the season Carlos had for us exasperated it for him – and I just want to say that I think Carlos will feel more at home this season. As for my contract – that is a full two seasons away, and I think it could still be the standard bearer for starting pitching contracts when the decision is due. I’m more than content to finish up here. That said, two years is a long time.”

The next two days were filled with player-lead activities that gave fans a chance to interact closely with the players. Amongst the activities were hikes through the crater of Kīlauea, snorkeling adventures in various locations around the island – designed to meet both fan and player comfort levels in the sea, and bike excusions around the island.

I had the pleasure of joining Tomás Flores, Ryan Holbrook and AAA SP Hugh Jones on one of the bike rides. Accompanied by a dozen fans, we were shuttled the two-and-a-half hours to Volcano National Park, where we met the team of bike outfitters. It was a thirty mile ride – downhill the entire way, to Hilo – a beautiful little coastal town, and then another 10-miles of rolling tropical paradise to our lunch stop. After ording a variety of sandwiches, smoothies and shaved ice, the group sat around for an informal chat. Highlights include:

Stephen Howard of Boulder asked Flores what he thought about covering the outfield at Northern Lights Park. “I really see no difference from what I had in Duluth. Doyle Buhl has an equally massive outfield and I totally see why they would have targeted me as a potential replacement for Hale. He was the best CF the previous two seasons, and I’d suggest injury kept him from winning a third time. I haven’t won anything at the Big League level, yet, but I do have a AA Wizard Award in my pocket. Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to helping this team reach the PEC. After they beat us pretty bad last year, I thought for sure it was in the bag for them.”

Gail Peabody of Durango asked Holbrook what his thoughts were of recent bullpen addition Ramón Contreras. “Ramón is a pro – through and through. I hope he comes here with that attitude and realizes that this ‘pen makes sacrifices – In my tenure I’ve seen guys move in and out of that closer role; if you get too cold, someone else will take over – and we ask no questions. Personally – and this is no attack on ‘Dobie’, but I sure would have liked to see a leftie join the club. For sure, though, he’ll do nothing but help this club out.”

Mr… Mr. Jones… Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones… Does he have a thing going on?

Carol Jensen of Louisville asked of Hugh Jones where the seemingly silly nickname of ‘Mister’ came from. “Oh, God… I hate that name. I suppose I deserve it, though. A couple of years ago when I was at SLRC, I was there with Manny Castro – you know, ‘Fido’? We used to bark in the dugout every time he would come up to bat, or get a big hit, throw a guy out on the bases – we gave him the full ‘dog’ routine. Then one day, I handed the stadium sound guy a copy of that great early centuary hit by the Baha Men, you know, “Who Let The Dogs Out” – Jeez Louise, we howled so hard in the first inning when it blared through the park. He laughed it off, but two days later, I took the mound for my next start, and… he had pulled the trick on me – the stadium guy played Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones”, and as I was warming up, ‘Fido’ stands and throws his arms above his head to sing the chorus part, “Mrs… Mrs. Jones… Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones… We’ve got a thing, going on…”. You think we laughed over the Dog song – guys in the dugout we’re literally ROFLing. And from that day on, the guys all called me Mr. Jones. It’s definitely gotten old, but I think it’s here to stay – unfortunately.”

That evening, upon everyones return (and lengthy nap for this writer), was the big luau – complete with buried pig and poi. After dinner – and before the nights highlight of hula dancing, a town hall meeting was held with GM Will Topham on hand, along with Kata Hayagawa, and team leaders from each of the five franchises clubs: 3B Mike Britt (Aurora), LF Roberto ‘Fudd’ Martinez (Thornton), 2B Charles Duncan (Gatineau), last years top pick LF Ricardo Zamora (SLRC) and SP Brandon Waters (Mokule’ia).

Does ‘Big Whisky’ plan on re-upping with Aurora or will he seek bigger riches and shorter fences?

Does Pope intend to sign a new deal with Aurora?

Bobby Sherwood from Denver asked the GM, what were their plans for River Pope and Britt after this season, seeing both are key players and are on the last year of their contracts. “We are certainly looking to keep the core of the team together – in no way do we see our window closing in the next few seasons. We’ve already signed Paul (Carlisle) to an extension for 2027, and we are talking numbers with Mike’s people, right Mike (I’ll note that ‘Big Whiskey’ smiled and nodded his head). And we’ve got an offer on the table for River, and we’ve been led to believe he’s signing it in the near future. We’re hopeful. Those two will bring us into a full roster for 2027 – a roster we hope will be looking for another title (a voice from the crowd yelled out, ‘Don’t forget the ‘Stork’) – and, yes, we would need to explore a new deal with Ryan (Topham waved over to the table where the statement came from and Holbrook was seated). There’s no immediate rush there – both sides are ‘comfortable’ at the moment

Aurora’s ‘Catfish’, one of their 1st round picks (28th overall) this past draft.

George Springer of Aspen asked Brandon Waters about his nickname ‘Catfish’, noting he (George) grew up in the Bay Area and remembered watching ‘Catfish’ Hunter pitch for Oakland in the old MLB days. “It’s funny you ask, because my Grandpa would tell me tales of the old MLB and ‘Catfish’ was one of those guys he loved to talk about – one of the early rebels on the financial-free agent issue. I know that Jim Hunter was given his nickname, ‘Catfish’ by the team’s owner – Charlie Finley – O’Finley? I can’t quite remember, but I think that’s how that story went. Mine is more organic and appropriate. Grandpa used to take me catfish hunting – and he was a pro, man we caught fish all the time. You know you’re bringing home a haul when you have catfish sandwiches for lunch. My teammates in freshman ball in high school would holler as I got on those early game buses – ‘Don’t bring that smelly catfish sammie back here!’ It wasn’t long before I was the ‘Catfish’ I kinda liked it, and when we moved to Japan my junior year – dad was in the army, I used it because it made connecting with the baseball team there easier – the Japanese kids loved it.”

The last day saw some folks take catamaran rides to watch the whales, but most players and fans chose to hang out at the pool, drink, mingle and it’s fair for me to say that clearly everyone had an enjoyable time. Smiles were on the faces of every fan as they departed the Orchid – a Hawaiian-styled Borealis jersey in hand – players and fans alike rapidly talking up spring training – which is to start in a week, and the prospects for another big season on The Front Range.