HWB benched for '09


POSTED: Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hawaii Winter Baseball died a second death yesterday.

But that doesn't mean there won't be a third incarnation, especially since league owner Duane Kurisu hasn't lost the dogged determination that he used to create the league in 1993 and resurrect it in 2006 after an eight-year hiatus.

Major League Baseball's decision to not renew its three-year contract with HWB last week at its winter meetings was the blow that put the Hawaii league down for the 2009 season.

The decision means major league prospects will not be able to play in Hawaii, and HWB owner Duane Kurisu does not want to run the league with watered-down talent, according to league information director Kyle Galdeira.

MLB cited “;logistical”; reasons for its decision. It now plans to consolidate its winter and fall offseason developmental leagues into one location, Arizona, which is the home of the Arizona Fall League and spring training's Cactus League.

But HWB is not completely shutting its doors. It will still be involved in community outreach, with programs such as baseball clinics.

Kurisu, and his brother, league president Hervy Kurisu, aren't giving up on bringing professional baseball, independent from MLB, to Hawaii.

“;There are potential opportunities that I'm not at liberty to disclose,”; Hervy Kurisu said.

In HWB's two runs (1993 to '97 and 2006 to '08), participation of pro prospects from Japan and Korea was heavy. So any new manifestation of HWB could include more foreign players.

There has been talk about the creation of an independent league or team, according to Galdeira, but nothing is concrete.

“;Everyone at HWB poured 100 percent into it,”; Duane Kurisu said in a news release. “;I particularly want to thank our employees for their extraordinary performance over the years. We would also like to thank our fans and sponsors for their continued support.

“;My passion has been creating and operating a league that gives these pro players something more than just development of their physical skills.”;

Duane Kurisu added that he thought players added intangible characteristics to their games just by being in Hawaii because of its unique culture.

“;This year, especially hearing rumors of the potential (decision to not renew by MLB), we told ourselves to do the best we can do, to go out on a high note, and I think we accomplished that,”; Hervy Kurisu said.

“;At the winter meetings in Las Vegas, we met with the commissioner's office and they said we did an outstanding job.”;

The long list of HWB alumni includes Ichiro Suzuki, Jason Giambi, Todd Helton and Joba Chamberlain.

“;Looking back on it, I feel it was a time in my life that I could develop a lot of confidence in my abilities in baseball,”; said Suzuki in a news release through an interpreter. “;I used the experience and confidence I gained in Hawaii to play in Seattle. In Hawaii, the weather is warm, but the people are warm also.”;

Suzuki played for the Hilo Stars in 1993.

Craig Counsell, who played for the Maui Stingrays, scored the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Florida Marlins.

Counsell also played for the Arizona Diamondbacks and was on first base when Luis Gonzalez blooped home the winning run in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

Hervy Kurisu recalls picking opihi with some of the players in the inaugural 1993 season, and will always cherish those memories.

“;It was more than baseball for me, personally, and the players got to do some things they never experienced before,”; he said.

His biggest memory, however, is “;just watching the fans and their interaction with the players and the expression on their faces.”;

Galdeira said most of HWB's 150 workers were seasonal and also employed elsewhere while doing their HWB work as their second jobs.

“;It was a grand experience bringing the thrill of pro baseball back to the islands,”; Duane Kurisu said in the release.

He oversaw all eight seasons of operation.

“;My brother Duane sacrificed so much over the years to be able to provide the league to the fans,”; Hervy Kurisu said. “;Not too many people would do that, run the whole league. But he decided to do it his way and I admire him for doing that.”;