Onan Masaoka has seen more of the world before age 25 than many of us do in a lifetime.
Masaoka graduated from Waiakea High School in 1995, and in the same year the young left-hander was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched in 83 games for the Dodgers between 1999 and 2000. During his baseball career he traveled to Japan, stayed in world-class hotels, flew on private jets, pitched against Barry Bonds, and met legendary Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax.
Upon his retirement in 2002, at the age of 24, Masaoka enrolled in the College of Business and Economics at UH Hilo.
“After being away for my baseball career and traveling a lot, I had a desire to be at home,” Masaoka says. “I knew that UH Hilo had good programs and the teacher/student ratio was in my favor.”
Masaoka decided to study business because of its practicality and application to daily life. Starting school again after being out for a few years felt like a whole new challenge, but Masaoka hit his stride quickly.
“Once I began the first semester, I felt myself growing more confident in thinking that I could learn to enjoy this college life and attain a degree in the process,” he says. Unexpectedly, he found that his favorite subjects were math and accounting. “Which is a little funny since I struggled the most with math in high school. However, I found that by following the process or rules of these two subjects you usually end up with the right answer.”
Masaoka’s college career was a success. He made the Dean’s List every year, and graduated with honors. His advice to current students:
“Go to your classes (or nowadays, log in to your classes). Take good notes and review your notes before the end of the day. Don’t procrastinate. Start early and take small steps.”
Today, Masaoka is a program director with Hawaii County’s Elderly Recreation division, helping kupuna pursue lifelong learning and fitness. During the pandemic he finds joy in his family (wife Christy, and daughters Layla and Joelle) and grounding in his faith in God, “knowing that nothing is out of His control.”
Having seen so much of the world, Masaoka believes that Hawaii Island holds work and education opportunities for those who apply themselves. But for island residents who are feeling restless, he advises,
“If you do have the opportunity to leave the islands, take it. It will always be here when you get back with a broader view of the world.”