Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Tuesday, October 22, 1996

Take me out
to the winter ballgame

THE only thing that went wrong for Frank Kudo Sunday was that his New York Yankees were getting blown out by the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. Fortunately for the president of Hawaii Winter Baseball, it was easy enough to tune out the distressing news from his portable radio during a balmy afternoon at Rainbow Stadium.

All Kudo had to do was look out from his seat above the Honolulu Sharks' dugout to enjoy a perfect day at the park. The opening homestand for the Sharks was a success, drawing nearly 5,000 fans for the three-game series against the West Oahu CaneFires.

"We have to feel good about the attendance," Kudo said. "Opening night (last Friday) had one of the biggest crowds (2,174) in our four years at Rainbow Stadium. I think it's just taken people some time to learn what the league is all about.

"The level of awareness has to be built up. Having a number of our former players make it up to the big leagues helps our credibility. And we're getting better and better players."

A study done by Hawaii Winter Baseball showed that 30

percent of the league's Class A and AA players have been called up by their parent clubs and have made at least one appearance in a major-league game. The

percentage is even higher for the Japanese players with HWB

becoming known as the place where stars are born.

The league has even developed its own "telescope" to observe its rising stars in the form of a 30-minute highlight program called "Road to the Show" televised Mondays on KFVE at 9:30 p.m.

"Rather than televising games, we want to tell people what we're all about, what we stand for," said Kudo. "Every week we have a different show for the 10 consecutive weeks of the season."

Unless it's virtual reality, television will never be able to top the feeling of actually being in the stands. Of seeing the light in the eyes of a Little Leaguer when catching his or her first foul ball. Or of duplicating the concession stand smells unique to Hawaii: boiled peanuts, saimin and teriyaki burgers.

Last Sunday afternoon was about as good as it gets. There were spectacular defensive plays by both teams, particularly West Oahu shortstop Matt Bokemeier, who personally retired the side on three consecutive throwing gems in the bottom of the second.

NOT that the game needs any help to entertain the fans - the Sharks won the game in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the ninth - but Hawaii Winter Baseball continues to come up with crowd-pleasing treats for all ages.

The league grows on you. Wayne Tanaka went to high school on the Big Island with league owner Duane Kurisu, which played a part in Tanaka becoming a season ticket holder for the inaugural season in 1993.

"But even if I didn't know Duane, I think I would have come to watch," said Tanaka, who has renewed his tickets for a fourth season. "If you understand baseball and like watching it, this caliber is very high. By coming regularly over the years, I can see the caliber of play has gotten even better.

"Definitely, I'd like to have a team on the windward side."

Unfortunately, it appears that the Kaneohe Bay Dawgs, scheduled to play at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base-Hawaii, will be sent to the pound before their scheduled debut next season.

"It was a 'go' with the Marine base until problems with their legal department came up," said Ruben Chappins, who is in charge of HWB player logistics. "We know that the Kona Man O'Wars (the other 1997 expansion franchise) will have great community support just from the ticket sales for our Nov. 1-3 series between Hilo and Honolulu in Kona."

Life is a game of chance. Kurisu took a big one in starting HWB four years ago.

Major League Baseball is pitching its future to Hawaii. All the fans have to do is take a swing.

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

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