HAWAII WINTER BASEBALL
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann threw out the first pitch yesterday to Kenley Jansen of the Canefires.
Kurisu helps bring the world together each fall
One sport, one world.
Duane Kurisu's goal for the Hawaii Winter League has always been global, to bring people together through the mutual love of baseball. His belief is that the game transcends language and cultural differences, with Hawaii the perfect field for international competition.
The CEO's dream hit the base paths running yesterday, HWL's opening day at the revamped and re-energized Hans L'Orange Field in Waipahu. New grass, new scoreboard and a new presence on the World Wide Web, complete with the blessings of Major League Baseball.
"I wasn't sure what to expect, knowing the games weren't going to be played in a stadium," said Nick Manno, MLB's coordinator of minor league operations. "But the field is in very good shape and has all the right ingredients.
"What I've tried to stress to the players in our meeting was that this is professional baseball. They all have great chances to go on to the big leagues. But they also should take advantage of this opportunity to become part of the community, be role models, because the community will be treating them as pro baseball players."
The Waipahu community did turn out in support, with some even bringing along radios so as not to miss the Hawaii-Idaho football broadcast. And the weather did its best to mimic the conditions of Hilo -- the hometown of Duane, brother Hervy (HWL president) and Clyde Nekoba (vice president) -- with a light sprinkle.
The league will have 12 road games, six to Wong Stadium in Hilo and six to Maui's Iron Maehara Stadium. The remainder of the schedule is at Hans L'Orange, with split doubleheaders to help preserve field conditions.
"Today is exciting and amazing, knowing the obstacles we've had to overcome," Hervy Kurisu said. "I know there was some skepticism initially from MLB over some issues, but I'm very happy with how things have turned out.
"This league does bring the world together."
The rosters are made up of A-AA players from 23 MLB organizations and seven from the Japan pro leagues. The teams have each been assigned an on-site trailer, which will serve as a clubhouse and home office.
The largest upgrade concerns the Web. There is a link from MLB.com to www.HawaiiWinterBaseball.com as well as streaming video of games on HTSportsNet.com. Video highlights are scheduled to air nightly in Japan as well.
Tossing out the ceremonial pitches yesterday were Duane Kurisu and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Hannemann's throw was a little high and outside, Kurisu's a little low but over the plate.
"It's so nice to see Duane's vision continue to be fulfilled," said Hannemann, who said baseball was the first sport he played. "And it's an excellent example of public and private enterprise working together."
Kurisu was pleased as well, enjoying his hot dog almost as much as relishing the start of a new season.
"It is a little like giving birth, I guess," he said. "There's anticipation and some pains, but in the end it's wonderful."