Star-Bulletin Sports

Saturday, January 26, 2002


For former Rainbow pitcher Billy Blanchette, family -- wife Kendra, and daughters Jackie, 3 years old next month, and Emma, 1 year old, come first.

Former ace controls
planes, not pitches

Hawaii's best pitcher in the early
'90s, Blanchette now works with air traffic

By Cindy Luis

Pressure is in the eye of the beholder. Or, in the case of Billy Blanchette, it's in the hands of the beholder.

The former pitcher-first baseman for the Hawaii baseball team has found the perfect job: Air traffic controller in Palmdale, Calif.

"It's not pressure, I think our job is fun," said Blanchette, who is one of some 50 players expected back for today's alumni game at Les Murakami Stadium. "I'm one of those controllers who says, 'Give me more planes. We can handle them.'

"It's fun to talk and work airplanes. It's fun, just like it was fun with the bases loaded, two outs and the crowd wanting you to get that person out. And, like baseball, you have to make good decisions or you're in trouble."

Blanchette rarely was in trouble during his three seasons in a Rainbow uniform (1990-92). He was voted the team's Most Valuable Pitcher in 1991 and its most Valuable Player in 1992.

The 1991 Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year finished with a 22-5 career record and still ranks among the leaders in 10 UH career categories.

The Rainbows won 100 games during Blanchette's final two seasons, losing 32, and claimed two WAC championships. The 1992 squad was one game away from the College World Series, losing to eventual CWS champ Pepperdine in the NCAA Regional in Tucson, Ariz.

Four players off that 49-14 team were drafted: Scott Karl, Jay Holland, Lavon Largusa and Blanchette. Playing in the big leagues was all Blanchette had ever dreamed of doing and he lasted four seasons in the minors before conceding that reality was throwing him a curve he couldn't hit.

"I still want to be a baseball player," said the 31-year-old Punahou School graduate. "When you grow up dreaming of the big leagues, that dream never goes away. But when you wake up and there's no chance of making it, you have to make another life.

"I don't wake up in the morning any more feeling a glove, I wake up in the morning feeling diapers in my hand. It's a good life that we have."

Billy and Kendra Blanchette settled in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles, more than two years ago. The couple has two daughters -- Jackie, who will be 3 next month, and Emma, who turned 1 yesterday.

"I spend as much time as I can with the girls," he said. "That's why I don't coach or play golf as much.

"Plus, there was concern last year that Emma wouldn't be healthy. This time last year, we were very scared. After she was born and things were OK, I decided that my family would always come first."

Blanchette hit a few bumps along the career path, trying real estate and broadcasting. He made his last appearance in a pro uniform in 1998 with the Honolulu Sharks of the now-defunct Hawaii Winter Baseball league, broadcasting their home games and playing in the away games.

But it wasn't paying the bills, not in Hawaii. When the husband of a real estate co-worker, a controller at the FAA's Diamond Head facility, suggested that Blanchette check out his profession, Blanchette found a career.

Blanchette monitors the air space from California to Nevada and northern Arizona. On the morning of Sept. 11, he was helping his wife and daughters pack for a flight later that day from Los Angeles to Boston.

"Kendra was going to visit a friend who's a flight attendant, but her friend called and said, 'You'd better turn on the TV,' " said Blanchette. "I knew right away something was going on. When a plane makes a turn like that, it is so unbelievably unusual, and when the transponders are turned off, something dangerous is going on.

"I had the day off, but the guys working said there wasn't a lot of air traffic in our area since it happened so early. I think the controllers, especially on the East Coast, did an excellent job getting all the planes down."

This will be Blanchette's first alumni game in three years. He said he's looking forward to seeing the changes made to Murakami Stadium and seeing some of his former teammates.

"I'm glad they finally named the stadium for Coach Les," said Blanchette. "He deserved it and it was long overdue. I've always thought that they should honor people while they're still around to enjoy it.

"It's disappointing to see that the program didn't continue with the same success after I left, but I've heard good things about (new coach) Mike Trapasso. That 1992 team was such a fun team with Randy Vollmer, Jay Holland, Tyler Cheff, Brady Perreira. There was no bad blood on that team."

Blanchette hasn't hung up the glove completely. He plays in Sunday men's leagues, mostly at first base and the outfield.

"I'm still holding my own with the young guys," he said. "My arm is shot, but I still swing the bat pretty good. And I'm still very competitive. It's just like high school.

"I don't know if my girls will play. I just want them to have a passion for whatever they want to do, like my parents did for me, my brother and sister. As parents, you worry about being able to afford things, but from the girls' viewpoint, it's how much time daddy can spend with them. It's a good life."


When: Today, 1 p.m., Rainbows vs. Alumni.
Where: Murakami Stadium.
TV: None.
Radio: None.
Tickets: $6 Orange, Blue levels. $5 Red level. $4 Seniors, children age 4-18, UH students in the red level.
Parking: $3

Notes: A total of 54 former Rainbows have indicated they will show up for the game. Not all of them are expected to play. Some of the 'Bows expected to suit up include Paul Ah Yat, Matt Apana, Darin Baker, Lance Belen, Billy Blanchette, Tyler Cheff, Jeff Coleman, Howard Dashefsky, Lars Hansen, Kenny Harrison, Corey Ishigo, Danny Kimura, Steve Otani, Markus Owens, Randy Oyama, Moku Paiva, Patrick Scalabrini, Rich Snider, Sean Takamori and Troy Yoshimura.

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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