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Jun. 15—When asked if he was interested in playing summer baseball in a wMissouri town named Joplin, the first thing Hawaii native John Kea did was a Google search.

“I had to do a little research of Joplin and find out where it was on the map,” Kea said, laughing. “I figured out pretty fast that it’s not the biggest town, but it’s nice. I thought I would like it because I’m actually a big country guy.”

The right-handed pitcher said he’s been soaking in his new surroundings this summer as he and two of his University of Hawaii at Hilo teammates — righty pitcher Christian DeJesus and middle infielder Lawson Faria — compete for the Joplin Outlaws in the MINK League campaign.

The Hawaiian trio comes from a Hilo town that has a similar population to Joplin at around 50,000 people. But that might be the only similarity the three players have noticed between the two locations since the they made their 3,800-mile flight to southwest Missouri a little more than a month ago.

“You knew coming in it was going to be different, but I guess I was just surprised by how different,” DeJesus said. “On our island, we only have so many things. Then you come here and they offer pretty much everything you can think of. There are so many different places to go, a lot of land and a lot of space. Obviously it’s a big change from Hawaii.”

“One thing that kind of caught me off guard was the (Joplin) airport,” Kea said. “Where I go to school in Hawaii, the airport is pretty small. It’s seven terminals, and I considered that small. Then I fly into Joplin and there are like two terminals. But as we drove into town, I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh, this is pretty nice and the people are nice.’ There’s almost anything you can think of, and it’s all spread out. We’re still using Google maps anytime we’re trying to get somewhere.”

The Outlaws’ Hawaii pipeline stems from Joplin head coach Chris Dawson’s coaching days at Division II Hawaii Pacific University in downtown Honolulu.

“I spent a semester at Pacific in the Spring of 2018, and it was a great learning experience for me,” Dawson said. “That’s how I built those connections. The old head coach at Hawaii Pacific is now the associate head coach at Hawaii Hilo, and he sent me three impactful players this summer.”

Kea, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, is a former first-team all-PacWest performer who broke a UHH school record with 10 saves for the Vulcans in 2019. This past spring, he went 2-0 in 12 relief appearances and picked up five saves while surrendering just 16 hits on the season.

Sophomore DeJesus, a 6-foot, 225-pound righty, also had a solid spring for Hilo with 26 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings of work. In 2020, he made four appearances on the mound in relief during the COVID-19 shortened season and posted a 2.57 ERA. His collegiate opener came against Division I Hawaii, which he shut down in 2 1/3 innings without allowing a hit.

Faria posted a .325 batting average in his first season with Hilo in 2020. Then this past season, the 6-foot, 185-pound middle infielder posted a .951 fielding percentage with just three errors in 61 attempts.

“It’s a pretty nice luxury to have one all-conference reliever and another solid arm on your staff,” Dawson said. “And then Lawson can kind of do everything for us in the middle infield. He can pick it, he can hit it and he can run. So all three of these guys can play, and we’re really happy to have them this summer.”

“The cool part is being able to represent our school and represent Hawaii,” DeJesus said. “A lot of people probably don’t know how popular baseball is in our state. So we’ve just come down here to play baseball, have fun and showcase what we’re all about.”

Contact Jared Porter on Twitter at @JaredRyanPorter.