Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Wednesday, July 3, 1996

Big effort
makes Little League special

IT is their field of dreams.

At first glance, the Kamuela Park field appears barely playable for baseball. There is no pitcher's mound. The infield resembles that of a collegiate softball skin field with base paths of cinder.

There is a bare patch in the outfield where a horse trailer could have parked. And probably does, on occasion.

This was the site of last week's Little League Baseball State Tournament for 9-10 all-stars. Kamuela Park, where the emphasis is on community, from usage to maintainence to pride.

In this bucolic, one-traffic-light town embraced by Parker Ranch, it all happens at the field. Horse shows, football, soccer, seniors' softball and Little League.

Last weekend, for the first time, the town hosted a state Little League tournament. It was an honor earned when West Hawaii won the inaugural 9-10 tournament last season.

It didn't matter that the tournament was for the five youngest of the state's all-star teams. It was an event for all ages, and for all ages to take pride in.

"The community worked so hard to have the field look good," said Clarence Rengulbai, president of West Hawaii Little League. "On Thursday, the day before the tournament, we had board members, umpires, coaches, managers, county workers who were not on duty and parents who didn't even have kids playing on our team show up.

"It was a big thing for us to host a state championship. The field was not in good shape early last week and our concern was for the kids' safety. But everyone worked hard to get it into shape. They did it for the kids."

Part of the job involved hauling in ash to help level the field and fill holes left by cleats and hooves. The field held up very well under some trying conditions: thundershowers that continually "blessed" the games.

"I think they did a fantastic job," said Bob Kawamoto, the state Little League administrator. I thought it was one of the better tournaments I had been to. And the level of play, especially for that age, was very good.

"There's something about being in an all-star game where outfielders who didn't make those catches during the regular season come up with the big catches."

Kawamoto also praised the hospitality. For the Kamuela folks, that was never in question.

"Win or lose, we just wanted the kids to have a good time," said Rengulbai, who moved from his native Palau to Hawaii in 1966. "I'm very happy with how the tournament went and I think all the families of the players were happy.

"All the teams showed plenty of aloha. They all showed we are one big ohana in baseball."

Rengulbai has been involved with Little League baseball for 15 years, including stints as manager, coach and chief of umpires. He said it's because he loves baseball "very much. It's my game."

It's people like Rengulbai who make his game possible for so many youngsters to enjoy.

So often, we take things for granted, such as playable ball fields. We don't think about - or appreciate - the behind-the-scenes hard work that make our leagues and tournaments run.

Over the next few weeks, there will be numerous Little League tournaments going on in Hawaii and hundreds of unsung heroes helping make them successful. Somewhere, someone will pull out a checkbook to help defray food and travel costs, or coax a boss into donating new caps and pants to make the all-star players look and feel extra special.

There will be coaches like Kailua American's Bill McConnell who no longer have kids in the league but haven't quite figured out how to walk away. They have their players living up to the Little League pledge of "win or lose, I will always do my best."

And there will be young catchers who call out in their sleep, "Back up, outfield" only to find that the baseball dream continues when they awake.

Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter. Her column appears weekly.

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