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Baseball in Hawaii? As cool because it sounds

Boogie boards, turtle encounters and the enduring spirit of ‘Aloha’ December 24th, 2023 If you didn’t know it was real, you’d probably think it was some kind of dream. Teams with names like the Honolulu Sharks, Waikiki BeachBoys and Maui Stingrays. Fields plowed over old sugarcane farms and set in places called Rainbow Stadium. Young

Baseball in Hawaii? As cool because it sounds

Boogie boards, turtle encounters and the enduring spirit of ‘Aloha’

December twenty fourth, 2023

In case you didn’t comprehend it was actual, you’d in all probability assume it was some form of dream.

Groups with names just like the Honolulu Sharks, Waikiki BeachBoys and Maui Stingrays.

Fields plowed over outdated sugarcane farms and set in locations known as Rainbow Stadium.

Younger prospects like Todd Helton, Daniel Murphy and Ichiro Suzuki roaming round islands approach out within the Pacific – taking part in earlier than anyone knew who they actually have been.

“You’re reminding me now of the fond recollections,” former Hawaiian Winter Baseball League proprietor Duane Kurisu advised “We carried a imaginative and prescient that went past baseball. … We felt that our position may very well be to develop the instruments of Aloha, which included traits like belief, confidence, character and group.”


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At the moment, there are well-liked winter baseball leagues in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, however from 1993-97 after which once more from 2006-08, there was the short-lived Hawaiian Winter League. Gamers from the U.S., Japan and Korea descended on tiny whaling cities like Lahaina and the tropical rain forests of Kauai. They stayed in beachside motels, they performed baseball in entrance of heat, welcoming crowds they usually, um, ate a whole lot of pineapples?

“Pineapples,” former massive leaguer and BeachBoy Daniel Murphy advised “They provide them all over the place, even in McDonald’s.”

Picture by way of Catch The Dream

The league was based by Kurisu, who fell in love with baseball taking part in pickup video games on sugar plantations alongside the north shore of Hakalau. It was “like within the film ‘Sandlot,’” he says.

Hawaii labored with Main League Baseball, the KBO and the NPB to get the highest prospects and gamers out to the islands in the course of the months of October to December for a 40-game season. Kurisu noticed the league as an opportunity to showcase Hawaii as a house for professional baseball and, extra importantly, a method to carry collectively a mesh of cultures and folks by the best recreation on this planet.

“MLB and Asian baseball has nice synergistic alternatives that may assist bridge political and financial boundaries,” Kurisu says. “With HWB, it was not MLB vs. Japan vs. Korea. The gamers from totally different international locations have been blended they usually performed collectively for his or her adopted cities in Hawaii.”

Gabe Kapler, Hawaii league house run champ in 1996, watches a recreation with a couple of gamers from different groups. Picture by way of Catch The Dream

From ’93-’97, these cities have been Hilo (Stars), Honolulu (Sharks), Kauai (Emeralds), Maui (Stingrays) and West Oahu (Canefires). After funding points brought about the league to shutter following the ’97 season, Kurisu introduced it again from ’06-’08 with the Canefires, Sharks, Waikiki BeachBoys and North Shore Honu.

Rosters ended up that includes scores of future Main League expertise: Jason Giambi, Buster Posey, Derek Lee, Lorenzo Cain, Ian Desmond, Aaron Boone, So Taguchi, Dexter Fowler and Matt Wieters have been simply a few of the 157 Hawaiian baseballers who ultimately made it to the massive leagues.

Probably the most legendary identify? Ichiro.

“Ichiro, man. His identify would preserve popping up all through,” Kurisu says. “It was from Day 1. Sooner or later I used to be with some farm administrators, they stated you gotta have a look at this child. Right here was this small man hitting bombs. This was the primary inkling of who Ichiro was. I noticed it in BP. He was hitting issues past these warehouses that have been over 450 ft away.”

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(There are rumors of a 500-foot Ichiro home run, however Kurisu hadn’t heard of it occurring in a recreation.)

Ichiro’s stint within the Hawaiian Winter League helped launch him right into a sensation. His Japanese supervisor had despatched him there to vary his swing and return the following season a brand new participant. Ichiro did the other.

From “Boys of Winter,” by Don Chapman:

“As an alternative of studying a brand new swing whereas he was with the Stars, Suzuki honed his distinctive model. And he stored swinging a coal shovel, the one coaching help he has ever used. That will clarify his uncommon swing. However no one may argue with the coal shovel’s outcomes. In Hilo, Suzuki hit .311 (second within the HWBL behind future Dodger Chad Fonville’s .370), was third in RBI (24), second in stolen bases (14) and was named the league’s MVP.”

The following 12 months in Japan, 20-year-old Ichiro led the JPL with a .385 batting common and have become the primary Japanese participant to succeed in 200 hits in a single season.

Oh, and that Japanese supervisor who needed him to vary his swing? He was fired.

Here is a younger Murphy (BeachBoys), Cain (North Shore Honu) and Lucas Duda (BeachBoys) within the mid-2000s

“I hit a house run in like three straight at bats on the market I believe — two or three. I had a fairly good stretch there,” Murphy stated. “I performed fairly effectively so that may in all probability be my spotlight.”

“All I bear in mind is I performed horrible that 12 months,” Cain remembers. “Perhaps I hit .230. We had simply performed a full season after which went on the market and performed principally a fall league. I used to be [tired].” (Though Cain’s Hawaii stint was poor, his reminiscence is superb: He hit .231).

Posey led the BeachBoys (together with future execs Yonder Alonso and Todd Frazier) to a winter league title, batting .338 with 15 RBIs.

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Giambi performed simply 19 video games for Kauai in ’93, however he raked — hitting .342 with 5 HRs and 14 RBIs. Have a look at the smirk on his baseball card. He knew he was going locations.

Picture by way of Catch The Dream

Hawaii native Benny Agbayani performed three seasons within the HWBL, however the Mets’ Minor Leaguer wasn’t even on anyone’s radar when the Honolulu Sharks got here calling in ’93. From “Catch the Dream” by Lance Tominaga:

“In 1993, we requested the MLB Commissioner’s Workplace for Benny,” the HWB official stated. “We needed him to play in our league. They checked with the Mets group, and the response was that they’d nobody by that identify. We requested them to test once more, they usually got here again with the identical response. Then we known as the Mets group ourselves, and after a lot rigor, they lastly discovered the identify “Benny Agbayani.”

Picture by way of Catch The Dream

Hawaii League officers weren’t positive “what would have turn into of Benny if he didn’t play for Hawaii Winter Baseball.” Agbayani made a reputation for himself, main the HWBL in RBIs (30) in ’95, and, in fact, changing into a beloved cult hero for the Mets throughout their 2000 playoff run.

Two ladies, right-hander Lee Anne Ketcham and first baseman Julie Croteau, suited up for the Stingrays in ’94 — changing into the primary feminine gamers in an MLB-sanctioned winter league. They’d barnstormed with the unbiased Colorado Silver Bullets the summer season earlier than. Ketcham completed the season with a 6.75 ERA and 5 strikeouts over eight innings. She had struck out 14 in a recreation for the Silver Bullets — her small, highly effective body reminding scouts of Tom Gordon.

Croteau solely batted .083, however she was all the time higher recognized for her protection, making zero errors in 11 video games. “With women and men taking part in at this stage, I imagine it’ll spark little women to play baseball,” Croteau stated in “Boys of Winter.”

The gamers, in fact, are necessary to selling a brand new league, however so are the logos. So are the crew names. And the Hawaiian Winter League had a few of the greatest.

“There have been two logos that, as I recall, New Period stated have been within the prime 10 nationally in the course of the time,” Kurisu stated. “One was the Maui Stingrays and the opposite was the Honolulu Sharks.”

Simply have a look at a few of these beauties.

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Kurisu employed well-known Hawaii agency Synergy Design to work up all of the branding.

“It was form of like being known as up by a rustic and being requested to invent their flag, state seal and foreign money,” lead designer Alan Low stated in “Boys of Winter.” “Have you learnt how onerous it’s to attract a stingray throwing a baseball?

Some crew designs have been meant to symbolize the traits and values of their corresponding cities. Hilo was a conventional, All-American metropolis with extremely clear skies at night time, so the Synergy crew went with Hilo Stars — the colors being red, white and blue. Kauai may be very inexperienced and jewel-like, so the crew was nicknamed the Emeralds. Different names and logos “have been simply enjoyable,” says Low. See the Sharks or West Oahu Canefires.

“We additionally pressured the umpires to put on Aloha or Hawaiian shirts,” Kurisu says, laughing. “The common Hawaiian garb. Nevertheless it solely lasted half a season. They have been reprimanded by the umpire affiliation or somebody. It was fairly neat, you understand? Are you able to visualize it?”

However what occurred off the sphere? What did gamers do after they have been outdoors the stadium? They lived in paradise for 2 months — how did they spend it?

Murphy practically noticed his teammate get thrown in jail.

“We have been in Waikiki Seashore so that you have been by no means too distant from the ocean regardless of the place you stayed with it. I had a teammate decide up a sea turtle, and an area advised him you get in massive bother for that — cannot contact the ocean turtles round there. Large bother. In opposition to the regulation, apparently.”

Cain witnessed a Halloween parade he is by no means seen and doubtless won’t ever see the likes of once more.

“I believe we had a time off every week. Each Thursday or one thing like that. I used to be too younger to exit and get within the golf equipment, so I principally went to the seaside with buddies. That’s it. Frolicked on the seaside. One factor I actually bear in mind was Halloween over there. I sat on my stoop and watched. They closed down the entire avenue and simply 1000’s of individuals have been strolling round, dressed up. That was actually memorable. It was a factor there. I had by no means seen something like that. I simply sat on the stoop and people-watched.”

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Drew Butera, who performed for the North Shore Honu with Cain in ’06, noticed Bobby Parnell get pulled off his surf board by a shark. Kind of.

“We went browsing one time and obtained into a fairly humorous scenario,” Butera stated. “In between units, Bobby Parnell had his ankle leash grabbed and his board tilted down into the water. All of us freaked out immediately as a result of we thought it was a shark. All of us thought, ‘We’re happening.’ After a few minute of whole panic, the leash let go and we noticed a turtle swim away.”

North Shore Honu’s Drew Butera in ’06. Picture by way of Hawaii Winter Baseball 2006, Catch The Dream

Kurisu recalled different gamers who took benefit of the distinctive expertise.

“Chris Widger beloved this place — he boogie-boarded daily,” he stated. “Youngsters would hike, a few of them discovered to swim right here. R.A. Dickey home-stayed with a household on the massive island in Hilo and the household nonetheless talks with him in the present day. Dickey would wish to go along with them to those totally different faculty actions, singing and dancing at Lei Day celebrations.”

Gamers took day journeys to deep-sea fish, entice prawns and decide opihi (a tiny shellfish that lives on the aspect of rocks in northwest Hawaii).

“One 12 months, we kalua-ed a pig,” Kurisu says. “We really constructed an imu [pit oven] at Hans L’Orange [Park] on the opposite aspect of the left-field fence. That was an excellent expertise for the gamers.”

However among the finest examples of groups catching Kurisu’s “Aloha” spirit was throughout a Thanksgiving beach-feast in 1994. The crew was the Maui Stingrays, made up of gamers from three totally different international locations and cultures — future execs like Takashi Ishii, Koji Tahara, Quinton McCracken and Craig Counsell. The gamers put turkeys into an enormous imu within the sand and paddled canoes out to close by islands — speaking and laughing deep into the night as a Hawaiian band performed.

You possibly can nearly image your self there, toasting to a heat sundown disappearing behind the Pacific.

Kurisu says he is able to revive Hawaii winter baseball every time MLB asks him to take action. I’ve a fairly good feeling all of us are.

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Particular due to’s Adam McCalvy and Thomas Harding for his or her reporting

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