Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Tex at the Top: Kanekoa Texeira Returns to Manage Gwinnett

Texeira, a pitcher with Gwinnett from 2014-16, is set to lead the Stripers in 2024
Kanekoa Texeira joins Gwinnett after serving as Double-A Mississippi's manager in 2023. (Eddie Kelly / Mississippi Braves)
February 15, 2024

Clad in a flat-bill cap emblazoned with the Hawaii state flag, the lush greenery of his back yard on the rugged island of Molokai visible behind him, Kanekoa Texeira cracks an ear-to-ear smile. “I can’t wait to go back home,” he says. The home he’s referring to could be any

Clad in a flat-bill cap emblazoned with the Hawaii state flag, the lush greenery of his back yard on the rugged island of Molokai visible behind him, Kanekoa Texeira cracks an ear-to-ear smile.

“I can’t wait to go back home,” he says.

The home he’s referring to could be any number of cities he’s resided in during his well-traveled lifetime. His native Maui, Hawaii, where he first picked up a baseball. Mission Viejo, California, where he starred as a pitcher at Saddleback Junior College. Seattle, where he first broke into the Majors with the Mariners. Any number of minor league cities he’s played in, including Omaha, Scranton, and Louisville.

But in this case, the home Texeira speaks of is five time zones away from where he sits. It’s Coolray Field. Gwinnett County. Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Texeira, a swingman on Gwinnett’s pitching staff from 2014-16, is set to make his return to the team in 2024 as the Stripers’ new manager.

“It’s the last place I called home as a player,” he said. “To come back and be able to manage (at a) familiar field, familiar locker room, with familiar faces around, I’m excited.”

Of the numerous clubhouses Texeira inhabited over the years, he spent the most time in the one at Coolray Field. As a versatile right-hander capable of starting or throwing in any relief scenario, he combined to go 10-16 with a 4.33 ERA and one save in 66 games for the Gwinnett Braves. During the 2015 season, he became the first pitcher in Gwinnett history to win six consecutive starts, going 6-0 with a 3.63 ERA from July 20 to August 15. He made 27 appearances in 2016 before retiring on August 31 following one final scoreless appearance against Norfolk.

Texeira delivers a pitch during his final season as a player in 2016.Jim Lacey

Gwinnett isn’t just where Texeira’s playing career winded down, it’s also where his conversion from trusted clubhouse leader to coach and mentor truly began. He credits Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, then his skipper with the G-Braves, in helping him start down that path.

“He was great for me,” said Texeira of Snitker. “From day one, I guess he knew I had the coach mentality or the mentality to control players. He just told me ‘I need you to take care of the clubhouse.’ And I said ‘I got it.’ So he never came in the clubhouse, he always would tell me ‘hey Tex I need this, I need that’ and I’d just go in and get it done for him. Now I’m in his shoes, now I’ve got to find my Tex in the clubhouse.”

Post-retirement, Texeira dipped his toes further into leadership waters as he remained with the G-Braves during their run to the International League Championship Series in 2016. A year later, he embarked on a new career phase with the Braves as the pitching coach at rookie-level Danville. Two seasons of honing his player development skills in the Appalachian League led to a promotion to Class-A Rome in 2019, where he was partnered with a longtime friend and former teammate, Matt Tuiasosopo.

Texeira and Tuiasosopo both describe being “like brothers” since first meeting in 2010 during Spring Training with the Seattle Mariners. They reunited as Triple-A veterans with Gwinnett in 2016 and again as burgeoning coaches with Rome. That 2019 campaign, during Tuiasosopo’s debut as a minor league manager, Texeira served as his pitching coach.

Tuiasosopo, a power-hitting utility-man for his entire 14-year playing career, leaned on Texeira’s expertise to improve his understanding of how to work with pitchers.

“The in-game bullpen management, managing the starters, knowing when to make moves and when not to make moves,” said Tuiasosopo about what he learned from Texeira. “Knowing who to go to even when results aren’t happening with a certain guy. But Tex would be like ‘no, stay with him, trust him, he’s going to come through’ and sure enough, he comes through. Just little things that Tex knows because that’s who he was, he was in those guys’ same spots. For me to learn how to make those tough decisions, he helped me a lot.”

When Tuiasosopo started on his own fast track and made the jump to manage Gwinnett in 2021, the Braves gave Texeira an opportunity to change his career course. He transitioned from solely working with pitchers and became the manager in Rome, now Atlanta’s High-A affiliate.

Braves’ Assistant General Manager, Player Development Ben Sestanovich noted Texeira’s relatability to both position players and pitchers alike as a key quality that led to his opportunity to manage.

“I think in that manager’s seat, being a coach who has a really good way about him and who can connect with players from all backgrounds is key,” Sestanovich said. “That was something that was clear Tex had, and definitely a big part of our thought process in giving him the chance to manage a few years ago.”

Tuiasosopo, having witnessed Texeira’s growth firsthand, echoed Sestanovich’s sentiments.

“He means a lot to this organization,” said Tuiasosopo. “I know that he is highly regarded as obviously a smart baseball guy. Just a person and a man that our young players look up to and respect. A guy that they look towards for not just baseball advice and teaching, but just with help in life in general.”

Since adapting to the managerial role, Texeira has enjoyed the challenge of overseeing every facet of a team.

“For me it’s fun because now I can do the whole game,” he said. “Instead of trying to be a pitcher and work on pitching mechanics or work on hitter’s weaknesses, now I can do the whole game. I can work on their pitcher, I can work on our hitters.”

After leading his Rome Braves to a 56-60 record in 2021, Texeira returned in 2022 and guided them to a 74-54 mark. The 18-win improvement culminated in his first postseason appearance, a first-round loss to Bowling Green in the South Atlantic League Playoffs. The next year saw Texeira promoted to Double-A Mississippi, where his club went 62-75.

And now in 2024, with Tuiasosopo joining the Atlanta Braves’ staff as third base coach, Texeira will take the reins in Gwinnett.

“It’s always, to me, a sign that you have a strong Player Development staff when there are promotions to the big leagues – in this case Tui’s – that open up positions that you have internal options (for),” said Sestanovich. “I know our staff as a whole is super excited for Tui and his opportunity in the big leagues and then right there with it, excited for Tex that he gets the opportunity in Gwinnett.”

Former Stripers manager Matt Tuiasosopo (left), Stripers' 2023 MVP Vaughn Grissom (center), and Texeira (right) pose prior to the game on September 19, 2023.Jamie Spaar

Though entering just his fourth season as a minor league manager, the 37-year-old Texeira brings a wealth of firsthand experience to the Stripers’ pilothouse. Selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 22nd round of the 2006 draft, he pitched for 11 seasons with six different Major League organizations. During that time he was traded (to the New York Yankees in 2008), claimed in a Rule 5 Draft (by Seattle in 2009), optioned, and released. He succeeded under the bright lights of the big leagues (2010-11 with the Mariners and Kansas City Royals), yet also plied his trade in independent and foreign winter leagues.

That roller-coaster ride as a player will help Texeira relate to just about any type of personality he’ll come across at the Triple-A level.

“I’ve been in their shoes,” he said. “I know their experiences and excuses and everything else they’re going to come up with. Me being the guy who hasn’t been a superstar or whatnot, but I’ve been to every level, played outside of the U.S., Indy (Independent) Ball, I’ve been through it all. I know what they’re going through, so it’s going to be easy for them to relate to what I say and the advice I try to give.”

Ready to navigate the ever-changing landscape of a Triple-A season for the first time as manager, Texeira has set forward simple goals for his squad.

“Everybody will say ‘win the championship’ and all that stuff, but at this level you never know,” he said. “There are so many moves of people going up and down. Guys getting traded. It’s hard to be so consistent and keep your whole team there the whole year. For me, it’s trying to keep all the kids happy and healthy, try to be above .500 would be a great goal.”

No matter the result on the field, Texeira is relishing the opportunity to connect with the fans once again in Gwinnett, a place so influential in his life.

“I can’t wait to see them, you know, try to bring the best I can,” he said. “Put some smiles in the stands, hopefully some wins on the board. I appreciate everything. I’ll be back home.”

Texeira waves his cap to the Coolray Field crowd following his final outing as a player on August 31, 2016.Enka Lawson