The UCLA Bruins made an unexpected pickup with Kenny Oyama before the season, and it has paid substantial dividends so far. While he only stands at 5-foot-4, weighing 150 pounds, his small size does not prevent him from making big plays. Oyama is a fifth-year graduate transfer from Loyola Marymount University, where he batted .260 (.330 in his senior season) across four years. Oyama’s success at the plate is impressive, but speed is his most significant asset, as he stole 34 bases at LMU. However, his talent on the bases has been amplified with the Bruins. He is second nationally with 14 stolen bases and is 14-14 on attempts.
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The Early Impact
Tracing back to the season’s first game, Oyama has made his mark. The Bruins opened up the season against California State University, Northridge, and it did not take long for fans to welcome Oyama. He stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning with runners on second and third base and hit the 2-1 pitch into right field, bringing home a run. However, his impact did not stop there. Oyama stole second base, which allowed him to score after Michael Curialle’s single. He finished with another hit and run batted in (RBI) during the opening matchup.
In the third game of the opening series, Oyama found himself on base in the fifth inning. He made it to second after a poor pick-off attempt. Then, while trying to steal, third found his way home because of another poor throw. Oyama’s threat on the base path fabricated himself a run. He finished the opening three-game series was six hits, four runs, and four stolen bases, demonstrating why he was given the lead-off spot. Oyama has not lost his spark since.
B5 | Kenny Oyama is out here creating HAVOC on the basepaths 💨
— UCLA Baseball (@UCLABaseball) February 20, 2022
Oyama the Game Changer
He kept racking up hits and stolen bases in the following games and the next significant moment came against Long Beach State University (LBSU). The Tuesday night game against LBSU came after they swept the University of California, Riverside. However, the Bruins were battling mid-week woes as they lost to Pepperdine and Omaha during the previous mid-week matchups. They needed a strong start, and Oyama delivered. He led off with a walk and stole second base. Cody Schrier scored him with a home run, and the Bruins never lost the lead, defeating LBSU, 3-0.
Oyama made his mark during the Shriners Children’s College Classic, where the Bruins played in front of over 10,000 fans. For reference, the Bruins home ballpark, Jackie Robinson Stadium, can only hold up to 1,820 fans. Oyama scored four times and stole three bases in wins over the University of Oklahoma and, No. 1 ranked the University of Texas, Austin. The most prominent moment came against Texas in the top of the fifth inning.
UCLA and Texas were tied 1-1, and Oyama stepped up to the plate where he walked. Two pitches later, he stole second base and did not wait long before stealing third base. Jake Palmer singled, and Oyama scored. The Bruins never lost the lead after and handed Texas their first loss of the season, 5-1. His consistency on the base paths has put the Bruins in positions to score on numerous occasions.
Meet graduate student Kenny Oyama. 5’4 150lb lead off guy for @UCLABaseball.
— 11Point7: The College Baseball Podcast 🎙 (@11point7) March 7, 2022
The Hot Play Continues
On Tuesday, against California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), the two teams were tied in the eighth inning. Oyama walked and made his way to second after Palmer grounded out. He tried to steal third base with two outs but got caught in a pickle. Somehow, Oyama managed to make it back to second base before being tagged, keeping the inning alive. While he made a mistake trying to steal, he recovered and was rewarded when Curialle doubled to bring him home, giving the Bruins the lead. Oyama is currently batting .273 and has proved to be the X-factor for the Bruins because of his quickness. His success confirms that baseball players can be successful regardless of size.
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Main Image Credit via uclabruins.com