Coaches recall gems on diamond
Maybe 24 teams in two divisions is too many for you in the state baseball tournament(s).
It is for me.
But we don't want to go back to the other extreme.
Les Uyehara remembers when it was just one eight-team tourney and a Punahou-Saint Louis matchup like last night's was impossible.
"Only one from the ILH. It was always a numbers thing," Uyehara said at a reception honoring past state championship coaches.
Uyehara is in his late 60s now, but looks as spry as when he coached Iolani to state summits in 1983 and 1986 -- and as a golfer captured the 1984 Manoa Cup.
If there was anything tougher than trudging the Oahu Country Club hills while beating the best local amateurs, it was surviving the gauntlet that was (and still is) ILH baseball.
I remember an ILH regular-season game during which a coach surreptitiously turned on the field lights to cause a game to end via the rule book before his team could lose it. Crazy stuff like that was common.
Of course, overwhelming talent usually negates trickery, and in 1983 Uyehara had Mike Fetters. Even when Fetters couldn't always find the strike zone he dominated with pure velocity that helped him to a long career in the majors.
Then there was Sid Fernandez. You can't forget Derek Tatsuno and no one will ever top Glenn Goya's perfect game. But for sheer talent and intimidation, many say Fernandez was the guy, the one who had you defeated while you were in the on-deck circle.
Clay Fujie, now the DOE deputy superintendent, was El Sid's coach at Kaiser. When the Cougars reached the state tournament in 1980 and 1981, Fujie faced that dilemma every coach would like: When do you throw your ace for the guaranteed win?
Fujie did not save him for the championship game either year; it didn't work out in 1980, as Kamehameha beat Kaiser in the title game 11-7 to reverse the outcome of the Prep Bowl the previous fall.
In 1981, Kaiser beat Waipahu in the final, with Kaipo Lau winning in relief.
Both years, Fernandez won an earlier tourney game and only pinch-hit in the final.
"We knew he was special and we had to protect him. We always gave Sid at least three days rest. The winning part is great, but you don't want to jeopardize the kid's future," Fujie said.
No wonder he's gotten so far as an educator.
True teachers are also pro-participation. Fujie said it was important to him that pitchers other than his future Major League all-star got their chances, too.
Consistent with that philosophy, Fujie likes that more teams are competing for more championships in Hawaii high school baseball now than during his coaching days.
"This allows small schools the opportunity to participate," he said, while watching Kauai wrap up a well-played 1-0 win over St. Anthony for the Division II championship. "Baseball, the game itself, never changes. The skill level, the mental part of the game has changed. Coaches are teaching skills that were taught at a higher level at younger ages now."
is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter who covers University of Hawaii football and other topics. His column appears periodically.
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