Ka'aihue likened his role with the Royals to a bandage. He began the 2011 season as the club's regular first baseman but was quickly replaced by Eric Hosmer, whose arrival had long been anticipated, after just 23 games. At the time, Ka'aihue was hitting just .195 with two home runs and six RBIs. At designated hitter, where he could see time with the A's this spring, he was blocked by Billy Butler in Kansas City.
Ka'aihue ultimately spent the majority of the season in Triple-A and, in September, was designated for assignment before being traded to Oakland.
"I wouldn't say it was my toughest year, but I would say it was the least enjoyable," he said. "In 2006, I had a knee injury and struggled badly at Double-A. That was frustrating because I was hurt. Last year was flat-out not enjoyable. I did better, but it wasn't fun. It was just a hard year."
Ka'aihue couldn't be happier with the A's, a team that's much closer to his hometown of Honolulu. His brother, Kala, spent some time in the organization in 2010 and promised he'd "love it."
"Everything he's said has been right so far," he said. "The people here are awesome. It just has a different feeling here to it. It doesn't feel like you're on the outside, looking in on a bunch of older guys. This team, there's a bunch of younger guys, and it's refreshing. I feel refreshed. I feel like I want to be here."
The A's have long been enamored with Ka'aihue's power potential, after he shot to prominence in 2008 when he combined for 37 home runs and 100 RBIs with a .314 average for Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. But he also wants to make them aware of his defensive skills, which, if proven to be above average, could further shake up the first-base competition with Daric Barton, Brandon Allen and Chris Carter.
"I'd say that's the best part of my game," he said.
Such confidence wasn't always there. It wasn't until the Royals put him on waivers and the A's reeled him in that he found motivation. Ka'aihue also gained plenty perspective when he learned his wife, Blair, was pregnant with twin boys, due on the Fourth of July.
"I feel like if I win a job, I might have a chance to stay here for a while," he said. "It's a good feeling, after having been passed up over and over. I love the guys in Kansas City, but I'm looking forward to this year so much more. And I can't wait to play them."