Written by Biko Skalla:
Breland Almadova’s first memories of life are of running around naked on the beach in Honolulu, riding on the back of his uncle’s motorcycle, and playing a variety of sports with his parents.
“All my cousins grew up on boards and in canoes,” Breland said, “but I grew up with a ball in my hand. Sports have always dominated my life.”
He lived in four different places growing up which in hindsight was a nice way to prepare him for an adulthood of constant movement as is the life of a professional baseball player. Breland started with a couple years at his grandmother’s house perched on the edge of a golf course, then was in a townhouse with his parents in Hawaii Kai through high school. In 7th grade he went to a private all-Hawaiian middle school called Kamehameha but then for high school he got into the prestigious ‘Iolani School. He excelled in football, basketball, and baseball, but admittedly was not up to snuff when it came to academics.
“I definitely brought down the school’s GPA,” he said with a chuckle.
The plan was for football to be Breland’s future, as he was terrific in his other two main sports but transcendent on the gridiron. He hurt his knee his sophomore year playing football which caused him to drop basketball so his body could have some well deserved rest.
He helped ‘Iolani win Hawaii state championships in football each of the next two years and captured a conference title in baseball as well. Breland led the state in interceptions his senior year and was primed to pursue football in college until his final baseball season came. He would lead the state in home runs, a true shock for a guy who had never been known for his power, and earned himself both Hawaii Gatorade Player of the Year and Louisville Slugger Player of the Year in baseball.
Just like that, a new door had opened. Although he was gunning for a PAC 12 or ACC school to come knocking which never came to fruition, he had a heck of a fallback option to be a freshman starter in the outfield at the University of Hawaii. Breland got to play alongside future MLB gold-glover and his predecessor as Hawaii’s Gatorade Player of the Year, Kolten Wong.
“I was starting as a freshman but struggled with the jump in competition and had to fix a lot with my swing,” Breland told me. “Then as a sophomore it all clicked.”
He would hit .298 with a .400 OBP across 52 games played. Plus he was getting a nice primer for what Grayson Stadium would be like when he would arrive in Savannah over a decade later.
“The atmosphere at home games was incredible,” he remembered. “Every game was sold out, a little more than 4,000 fans ready to go crazy.”
Breland helped Hawaii win the WAC Tournament as a freshman and the regular season title his sophomore year. Now after three years of college ball he was finally eligible for the MLB Draft, which unfortunately did not go as planned.
“I thought with what I had done in high school and college that I was going to go in the first ten rounds,” Breland said. “Those ended up being the two longest days of my life. I had given up towards the end when a scout who had been watching me a lot called and said I was the 1,143rd pick.”
It was the first year of the 40-round draft, and Breland had been taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 37th round. Even though it wasn’t the way he was hoping it would happen, it was a ticket to affiliated baseball.
“I went for it because I was so scared I would get hurt back at Hawaii and ruin my chances of being drafted again,” he said. “I was excited for sure, but I also had a massive chip on my shoulder after being picked so late.”
Breland didn’t memorize the names of the 1,142 picks before him, but he did want to get to work as quickly as possible so he could prove those who doubted him wrong. He signed his contract three days after the draft, and just one day later was shipping off to Missoula, Montana. Just a couple months down the road, Breland and his Osprey teammates defeated the Ogden Raptors who had Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Ross Stripling, to take home the Pioneer League Championship
“That was my first time ending a season with a championship since high school football, and I felt like I was really a part of something special,” Breland said. “I was 21 years old popping champagne with my teammates after taking down the mighty Dodgers affiliate. It was a special moment in life.”
After hitting .306 in rookie ball, Breland was promoted to Single-A the next season and sent to South Bend, Indiana, where he struggled for the first time in his young professional career.
“I struck out so much that summer,” he remembers with disdain in his voice. “I would have a bad game and not want to talk to anyone after. That’s not the game of baseball. You play so many games because of how much you’ll struggle but it’s hard to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of what feels like an endless slump.”
Even though he wasn’t at his best, Breland was once again a part of a team that had fought their way to a championship. This time though they would be stopped short by Carlos Correa and Tony Kemp’s Astros affiliated squad.
Breland was sent back to South Bend in 2014 but then in mid-July he got the word from his skipper that he was graduating to high-A.
“My last swing in low-A was an oppo taco against the Fort Wayne Tin Caps and it was a top-3 crispiest, cleanest, no feel home run I’ve ever had,” Breland remembers with a smile.
It felt like a good omen of what was to come. He joined a last placed team in Visalia, California, and promptly they won 12 games in a row. All of a sudden the team was out of the cellar and playing nearly perfect baseball which would take them to game 5 of the league championship, where the dream season ended with another heartbreaking championship defeat.
Breland earned the Minor League Gold Glove for centerfield as he led all of affiliated baseball with 20 outfield assists. He thought his defense, combined with hitting .295 across his 42 games in high-A and a great spring training performance would lead to a promotion but he found himself back in Visalia at the start of the 2015 regular season. He would be with the Rawhide for the entire summer, hitting .273 and swiping 25 bags in 35 attempts. It wasn’t the best season of his pro career but he was putting up respectable numbers at the plate and still providing stellar defense in center. He also had a front row seat to one of the most impressive offensive seasons he’d ever seen, as Mitch Haniger asked for a demotion from double-A after getting no playing time and then hit what Breland said he felt like was a home run every game in Visalia.
In 2016 the Diamondbacks had new management take over which is always dangerous for players who were selected by the past regime, but Breland had another great spring and his name was on the roster selected to be heading to Mobile, Alabama, to play for the double-A affiliate BayBears. That was until the last day of spring training, March 31st, when the coaches called him into the office and said he was being released. There were some nice words said about his ability to make contact and take away hits in the field, but in the end the lack of power was a dealbreaker for the new folks in charge of things.
“I didn’t get a chance to go back to my locker to say goodbye to the guys or anything,” Breland said. “They put all your stuff in trash bags and you have to pick it up in the equipment room. That was a pretty heartbreaking end to four years with the Diamondbacks.”
Breland talked to his agent who reached out to teams but because the release had happened after every organization had already filled in all their rosters nobody was ready to kick somebody out to add Breland to their farm system. So he found himself in St. Paul Minnesota with the Saints who were in their second year in the American Association. It was a great atmosphere with around 8,000 fans every night but Breland was having trouble shaking off how his career had so suddenly turned upside down.
“I loved St. Paul, it was really an amazing city and the games were electric but my mental state had been shaken,” Breland said. “It didn’t affect me in the field, I led the American Association in outfield assists, but I just could never get the bat going.”
He hit .255 and .256 in his two seasons St. Paul, totaling 8 home runs and stealing 46 bases in 57 tries. Although he could have stayed with the Saints for a third campaign, he felt like a change of scenery might be necessary so he shipped off to Northwest New Jersey to join the Sussex County Miners in the CanAm League.
Breland still didn’t swing the bat like he wanted to but the strikeouts did go down while the OBP went up. He broke the league record with 51 steals and got back to his winning ways as the Miners won the CanAm Championship.
In 2019 Breland hopped over to the Atlantic League and got on the HighPoint Rockers roster in their inaugural season. He made his first professional all-star team but then injured his hamstring and was out for a little over a month, triggering the Rockers to trade him back to the Miners. Back in Sussex County Breland found his stroke again hitting .380 in the playoffs although his Miners lost in the championship.
That December he finished his degree in business online through the University of Alabama and then headed back to his adopted home of Arizona to bartend until the baseball season had arrived. But then in March COVID came, and Breland decided it would be financially prudent to throw all his belongings in storage and move back home to Honolulu.
“COVID made me realize I wanted to educate myself on the best way I can live longer, look longer, be as healthy as possible and play baseball for as long as possible,” Breland said. “My final project at Alabama was a smoothie truck business and I decided I might as well try to start it for real, even if it was on a tiny level.”
So Breland “borrowed” a bunch of coolers from his dad, a blender from his dad and another from his cousin, and set up a pop up tent in their cul de sac and started selling smoothies. The general consensus was positive so he leveled up to a farmers market at Kaiser High School every Tuesday for two months before he had to leave to play ball again.
“I told my parents they didn’t have to keep the business going but they said they still wanted to do the farmers market every Tuesday while I was out chasing my dream,” Breland recalled fondly.
He took one of the blenders with him to the mainland and kept his end of the business going, now with baseball players as the main customer base. One of his good buddies from his days with the Diamondbacks, Jamie Westbrook, was extraordinarily intrigued by the smoothies and decided he would drink one every time Breland did.
“It helped Jamie slim down a lot to the size he wanted to be for baseball and he also attributed the smoothies and a vegan diet we were both on for the 2-month season to him finally being able to cure a case of the yips,” Breland said. “To take care of the two of us and all our teammates who had become regular customers we had Costco boxes all over the place in our room. It looked like the produce section in a grocery store.”
Jamie kept contacting Breland after the season saying that they needed to make the smoothies into a legitimate business. The constant nagging pushed them to actually buy the LLC to make it a company, and thus Mana Living Health LLC was born.
“Mana in Hawaii means strength and power,” Breland said. “I use the word as a spiritual strength that empowers us. It’s also a lifestyle that is built around being outside and surrounding yourself with good people. Mana is everything, it is what you decide to do with your life.”
Relatively quickly they found a juicery in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, that wanted to rebrand and all of a sudden Breland had two actual permanent locations to sell his smoothies. But Pittsburg is just the beginning.
“Our goal is to spread our message of health, happiness, and wellness out west as well,” Breland said. “I want to bring the beach to people that don’t have the beach. If you give someone health then they’ll find their own beach.”
Back on the baseball front, Breland continued his nomadic life in 2021 spending stints with the Gateway Grizzlies in the Frontier League, the Houston Apollos in the American Association, and then he helped the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League achieve a 13-game winning streak. Breland especially cherished getting to play for the Ducks legendary manager Wally Bachman.
“He was one of the best managers I’ve ever had,” Breland said with a big smile. “You just feel his presence. I mean he still smokes a heater between every half inning. The man finds a corner and goes and smokes his cig.”
Whether it was causation or correlation that the Ducks had gotten red hot when they acquired Breland, they decided there wasn’t going to be a spot on the roster for him in the playoffs as they were able to bring in some new talent at the end of the year. It turned out to be, as Gob Bluth constantly says in Arrested Development, a huge mistake. Breland was picked up by the Lexington Legends and he helped them defeat the Ducks in the Atlantic League Championship.
Breland had first heard about the Bananas back in 2019 and enjoyed following the squad but knew it was just a summer collegiate team. Then during his wild 2021 season he saw his buddies Cosimo Canella and Chris Kwitzer playing for the Party Animals and reached out to find out what this team was that he had never heard of before who got to play against the Bananas. The guys raved about their time played this new version of baseball called Banana Ball, and then Breland met Sam Claycamp on the Lexington Legends and found out there was going to be a tryout for both the Bananas and Party Animals teams.
“At first I was going to wear normal baseball clothes but then I decided a coconut bra and grass skirt would probably be the better move,” Breland said with a chuckle.
Unfortunately his schedule was jam packed and the outfit never could come together. But just like when he was applying for college, he had a worthy backup plan.
“I had a pink and blue flamingo romper that I had only worn once in Austin for my 30th birthday when we started playing dress up with some of my brother’s best friend’s drag stuff,” Breland said laughing. “I did a little runway with the romper and I loved it so much my brother gave it to me. I wore it that night out on the town and then again at the tryout.”
The outfit was a smashing success, and it nearly stood out as much as Breland’s skill on the diamond and general sunny disposition combined with a goofy personality. He was exactly what we were looking for.
“I think that all baseball teams should have a tryout like that,” Breland said. “You were praised if you screwed up trying to do something awesome. Normally you’d be cut on the spot for that.”
Breland would go on to be a star for the Party Animals in the 2022 Banana Ball World Tour and the Banana Ball Summer Series, both on the field and in the all-important content world. The gold glove award winner secured his spot as the Party Animals center fielder and has led off nearly every game he’s played in.
“Me being 11 years into my pro career now I can tell you as well as just about anyone that our game is dying but I think Banana Ball is a lifeline,” Breland said. “I feel like elsewhere the authenticity of the game is a little lost and forgotten but here we’re packing every ballpark and the fans are being endlessly entertained. Everything is celebrated here. You forget the downs in Banana Ball because everything else you’re doing is so much fun.”
Breland is signed on to be an outfielder for the Party Animals for the 2023 Banana Ball World Tour and is now preparing to bring his patented smoothies to 33 different cities across the country. The self-proclaimed Smoothie King is excited to have a little stability in a career where such a thing is so rare.
“I’ve played for 17 different teams across 11 years of being a professional baseball player,” Breland said with a weary smile, “I’ve never felt younger or had more fun playing the game than I do in Bananaland. It’s tough to put into words how excited I am for 2023.”