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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Thursday, May 18, 2000

Murakami can relax
and have some fun

RELAX and have fun. For the last seven years, Les Murakami tried to do that at the Maui Open. But he was never quite at ease because he was wishing his UH baseball Rainbows were playing in the NCAA regionals.

They didn't make the tournament again this year, but it'll be a far more relaxed and relieved Murakami at this year's Maui Open, which will be held in a couple of weeks.

For once, it'll really be a time for him to have fun.

Murakami announced that he will retire after one more year -- his 31st -- as the Rainbows' baseball coach. He also said the 2001 season is going to be a "celebration."

"There will be no pressure on the kids. We'll probably have a lot of fun," said Murakami, who definitely included himself in the "we."

"There are a lot of things I can do," he said.

One of them, most certainly, is playing more golf.

As for regrets? There aren't any, he said.

"Now I don't have to worry about you (media) guys," he said with a laugh at Tuesday's news conference.

At least I hope the laugh meant he was just kidding.

Murakami has his critics. But even they realize that no one has done more for the UH baseball program than Les.

"Les is synonymous with the program," said UH athletic director Hugh Yoshida.

In that regard, because of the impact of the Rainbow program, local high school baseball has improved tremendously in the last two decades to the point that now it has become a hotbed of talent for college coaches.

Which, in a way, has come back to hurt the Rainbows in terms of recruiting local talent.

Over the years, Murakami has been a class act and he wants to go out with class.

His final "at-bat" is important, he says, in terms of making sure that the baseball program will be in good hands.

He will be involved in the search process for his successor.

Murakami hopes his successor will uphold the standards that he set and be a "person of character and integrity."

And, he added, "Hopefully, somebody like June Jones."

Can the UH baseball program lure a "June Jones" type?

WHY not? It's a high-level program that still ranks among the best in attendance despite a decline at the gate in the past several years. The potential is still there for it to be a money-maker like it used to be.

Perhaps it was in deference to Murakami, but no one at the news conference raised any questions about the search process for the next coach.

Also, there's no real sense of urgency because Murakami still has another year to go.

But Yoshida, who expects some inquiries to start trickling in, wants to develop a time line to get the process in place shortly.

State and federal laws require that the position be publicly advertised. While it's standard that candidates have a college degree, work equivalence can be substituted, opening the way for someone with professional baseball experience.

One of the first names that come to mind is Lenn Sakata, a 10-year major league veteran who's now a manager for the Bakersfield Blazers, the San Francisco Giants' Class-A farm club in the California League.

"It's not quite clear what the situation is, but of course I'd like to coach at UH," Sakata said last night.

"I've been interested for the last five years, but I've never said anything because of Les.

"I would not mind taking the job, but I would want his endorsement," Sakata said.

As for his qualifications, Sakata said, "I think my background speaks for itself."

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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