Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, April 21, 1999

W E S T E R N _ A T H L E T I C _ C O N F E R E N C E

For UH-Hilo,
WAC membership
has its price

The school's baseball program is
looking for funds as it prepares
to join the conference
next season

By Al Chase


HILO -- The University of Hawaii at Hilo is upgrading its baseball program to be more competitive when it joins the Western Athletic Conference next season.

In seeking affiliate membership in the WAC, the Vulcans developed a plan and made a three-year commitment.

Increased financial support and expanded recruiting are the top priorities; the first is necessary for the second.

"It looks like we'll have to raise $50,000 to $75,000 a year above what we spend on baseball now," UHH head coach Joey Estrella said. "That would be funds for two road trips and to have some money for recruiting."

The UHH baseball budget this season was $80,000. Much of that went to guarantees, hotels and transportation for visiting teams, with nothing for recruiting. Vulcans coaches use personal funds when traveling to recruit, including the state high school tournament.

Next season, the Vulcans will have WAC road trips to California and Texas plus a weekend league visit to Rainbow Stadium.

Fund-raising has secured about $25,000 so far.

"We need six to eight corporate sponsors who will give us a three-year commitment at $5,000 each," Estrella said. "Then were looking for businesses who will give $1,000, which includes season tickets and signage. Beyond that, we may look for series sponsors."

Francis Wong Stadium will be used for most games next season. UHH officials feel the county facility is more fan friendly than Hall Field on campus, where the grandstand lacks a roof.

"We hope that by using Wong Stadium, we draw about what Hawaii Winter Baseball drew (about 1,000 per game)," Estrella said. "If we do that, then we'll be able to help cover that $70,000 nut."

Estrella thought last Sunday's season finale against the Hawaii Rainbows would be a good indicator of fan interest. Despite early morning rain, 1,281 attended.

The Vulcans will continue to have a foundation built with Hawaii players, but Estrella knows an adjustment is needed.

The recent 9-37 season, including 34 games against NCAA Division I against opponents, proved that.

"There has to be an increase in kids from outside of Hawaii and that's only because many of the good Hawaii players go to the mainland," Estrella said. "Hopefully the mainland players we bring in will be strong Division I players and augment our Hawaii recruiting base."

There has been increased interest by recruits since the move to the WAC was announced. Estrella has established a good relationship with Bellevue Community College just outside Seattle and realizes he has to look at California.

"We've been pretty successful with northern California kids because they come from a little bit smaller towns . . . and it's easier to adjust to Hilo," Estrella said.

"For someone to come to Hilo, they have to know it's more rural than urban. We tell them it's a small community, it rains more than they are used to, but it's a close-knit community with caring people.

"Another concern we have is the adjustment freshmen have to make going anywhere outside of home.

"So we look at junior college players who are more mature and understand what college is like."

There is a benefit from the Western Undergraduate Exchange that allows out-of-state students from certain western states to attend UHH without paying full out-of-state tuition.

Also, anyone with Hawaiian blood from the mainland pays in-state tuition.

There are other things Estrella would like to have happen in time. One is a full-time assistant. Kallen Miyatake is UHH Director of Intramurals and Estrella says he feels guilty about the yeoman work Miyatake does with the team.

Presently the players take care of the campus field, which needs to have a serious drainage problem corrected, and they still do their own laundry.

"These are things we expect now, but I'd like to give our kids a little more of the amenities someday," Estrella said.

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