Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Nebraska pitcher Shane Komine got his 500th collegiate strikeout on June 7, allowing four hits and striking out six during Nebraska's 2-0 win over Richmond during an NCAA super regional game in Lincoln, Neb. Komine, a Kalani High School alumnus, has 40 wins and 500 strikeouts in his college career, something only five other pitchers, including Derek Tatsuno, has ever done.

What a Shane!

The Kalani alumnus is responsible
for a baseball renaissance in Nebraska

Nebraskans, God bless them, good people with big hearts and bland food, are simply not equipped with the inherent linguistic capabilities we know without even knowing. In other words, they tend to mangle words unfamiliar to them. It sounds horrible, but it's forgivable. In Nebraska, you see, you haven't really made it until they can actually pronounce your name right.

And so at first, he was "Kuh-min-ay," and no amount of coaching, correcting or even anonymous letter writing (hey, it started to really bug me) could sway the TV announcers and radio play-by-play men. They simply could not say it. It was beyond the realm of their known universe, somehow too much for them to grasp.

They just couldn't get it right.

But then came some daylight, and some wins, which were rare for Nebraska baseball then. This tiny kid, this bantam freshman from Hawaii, was turning into the team's best pitcher, and the team started to grow along with him.

As a sophomore he was the No. 1, the ace, bulked up, and he was "Ko-meanie." Which was closer, I guess. Then the wins came, and the records, and even a few fans. Nobody had heard of Nebraska baseball then, not even Nebraskans. Especially not Nebraskans. Tens of thousands watched football in the spring, but baseball was a wasteland. You could get 50 people in the stands, or, on a good night, maybe a few hundred. Maybe.

"There were more players than fans at some of the games," he said.

But then they started to buzz. About this team. About this kid. Ko-meanie. They came, and the team won, and this pitcher was unbeatable. And the state started to wake up.

The announcers started to do better.

By the time he was Big 12 Player of the Year, by the time he was a first team All-American, by the time a screaming baseball smashed him in the face and shattered his jaw (and he still threw to first for the out), more and more people could magically say his last name. But they no longer needed to.

Elvis, Cher, Madonna. And Shane.

His comeback from the face smashing was the stuff of Greek mythology, pitching in the Super Regionals against Punahou alum Justin Wayne just eight days later. Of course you know now that Wayne won, and Stanford advanced.

Kalani High School alum Shane Komine has helped Husker fans appreciate more than just football.

But One Name Shane had pushed Nebraska baseball to the brink of heaven. And his legend had begun.

The next year was perfect, storybook. More records and wins and people in the stands. Nebraska was a baseball power and the kid with the name nobody had bothered to learn to pronounce had taken the Huskers to the College World Series. A state was in a frenzy. Omaha, the in-state site of the NCAA championship tournament, was flooded in red.

This year there was a new home, a beautiful, brand new, wonderful ballpark, a multi-million-dollar shrine to this kid from the islands. And they came! The people poured in, came by the thousands to watch. He had carried Nebraska baseball on his back, in these four years, taken these people on a ride they'd never dreamed of. And last weekend 8,474 and 8,569 showed up at the Lincoln Super Regional ("It was crazy," he said) to see him win two games in three days and the place was his own personal "Cheers."

Heading into his second consecutive College World Series, everybody knows Shane Komine's name.

IT'S MUCH MORE than that, of course, because there is another name that Komine helped an entire state learn to pronounce. Baseball. Husker baseball wasn't terrible, but it was a long way from good, and worse than that, it was invisible. Nobody knew. Nobody went. Nobody cared. Even with players like Darin Erstad (yes, that Darin Erstad) and Ken Harvey, nothing special happened.

Up the road in Omaha, the College World Series sold out to tens of thousands. In Lincoln, the local school was lucky, very lucky, to hit triple digits.

Baseball? This was a place that ate, breathed, lived, died football. More than 31,000 attended this year's spring game. Baseball was beyond the realm of their known universe. They couldn't even pronounce it.

Before the great renaissance, "People said they hadn't been to a baseball game in 30, 40 years," Komine said.

But then Nebraska went on a spring swing through Hawaii and the Huskers took a flyer on a 135-pound Kalani High senior named Shane Komine. A 135-pound pitcher? Nebraska coach Dave Van Horn would later say this was no gamble, because at the very least the undersized unknown could contribute.

Perhaps unknowingly, Van Horn was sizing up the state of the program at that time.

But things were about to change, dramatically, rapidly, incredibly. Nothing would ever be the same.

"From the day he walked on campus in August of 1998, we knew he was going to be our ace after we saw him playing catch that first day," Van Horn said. "It has been incredible."

It has.

It's meant everything.

Komine went 21-0 at home in his career, including last weekend's dramatic complete game shutout of Richmond in the Super Regional opener Friday, then the clinching victory, picked up in three innings of relief Sunday, to send Nebraska to the CWS again. The sellout crowd, the record numbers, saw their hero coming to save the day again Sunday, and 8,500 people exploded. "The stadium just erupted, I guess," Komine said, still shaken, still stirred.

There have been honors and the awards and the statistical record (40 wins, 500 strikeouts) that puts him in the same sentence as the great Derek Tatsuno. But more. So much more. He started an avalanche. The people have come, and the football jerseys have disappeared. A program has been built, and a new stadium too, one Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel wrote, "should probably be renamed for its true owner."

There is baseball in Nebraska. Shane Komine did that.

"It's just fun," the Hawaii native said, "having the whole state just going crazy."

Komine pitches Friday, starting in the College World Series against Clemson.

Everyone in Nebraska will be shouting his name.


Season statistics for pitcher Shane Komine:

ERA 1.87

Wins 10

Losses 0

Appearances 14

Games started 12

Innings pitched 91.1

Hits 56

Runs 24

Earned runs 19

Walks 22

Strikeouts 108

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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