Pal Eldredge

’Pen Pal


Monday, April 16, 2001

Hawaii Winter League
primed for comeback

Around January 1992, I received a call from the people who operated the Hawaii Winter Baseball League. The purpose of the call was to arrange a meeting to brainstorm for ways to make the league work.

As I walked into the large suite of offices, I was struck by the barren appearance of each room. There were only a few desks, and there was nothing indicating a new baseball league was about to begin. Nothing seemed to have a sense of permanence about it.

A couple weeks after the meeting, a media day was held. I remember it was sponsored by a major baseball card company, which was somewhat impressive. Still, I had a negative feeling about the start of the league.

Maybe a month after that, the league folded. My suspicions became reality. I just knew it wasn't going to make it.

Right after the league shut down, I received a call from a local man who said he had purchased the league and wanted to meet with me about it. The first time I met Duane Kurisu was in my classroom a day after that call.

Duane said he bought the league because it had been a boyhood dream of his to own a baseball team. During the meeting, it became increasingly obvious that this man was serious about his baseball. At this point, I knew the league was for real. I knew we were once again going to have professional baseball in Hawaii. The Hawaii Winter Baseball League was back on.

In October 1993, the four-team league began play on a 56-game schedule. The league lasted five years, after which it suspended operations until a more equitable financial situation could be worked out between the league and Major League Baseball. Almost 400 players participated in the league and about 65 of them have played in the majors.

At the core of the league was Duane Kurisu, and it's the same today. When you meet this man, you come away impressed with his unassuming manner and his intelligence, but you mainly come away with the knowledge that this man loves the game of baseball. During the five years of the league's existence, Duane has personally made considerable financial sacrifices to keep the league afloat. Major League Baseball had little to do with the running of the league. It offered almost no financial assistance.

For a few years, MLB ran winter leagues on the East Coast and in California, but they weren't successful.

MLB has been negotiating with him to begin league play once again, but Duane is playing hard ball and will only restart the league if MLB promises financial help. When you enter the league office, you realize things are happening and the league may begin play any year now, maybe even this year.

Duane began working in the second grade. He has been a success ever since, being a major partner in Kurisu and Fergus, a local development firm, and an owner of several other businesses. One of his pet ownership projects is his part-ownership of the San Francisco Giants.

Duane is involved with almost all baseball activity in Hawaii. He has helped support clinics by Dusty Baker of the Giants and Cal Ripken of the Orioles, and is called upon for help when professional teams from Japan and the U.S. play or train here.

Duane Kurisu is a baseball guy, a man with all the right reasons to do what he does.

Pal Eldredge is a baseball commentator for KFVE
and former varsity baseball coach at Punahou School.
His column runs Mondays during the Major League Baseball season.
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