Emerging Dirtbag


POSTED: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pearl City senior Royce Murai has always been in the shadows of the local baseball scene.

Now, he's on the verge of becoming a Dirtbag and he's just fine with that.

Murai received offers from Arizona and Long Beach State, among others, and eventually decided the West Coast lifestyle would fit more for a Hawaii boy than the desert.

LBSU has a storied baseball program, with four College World Series appearances and 19 trips to the NCAA Regionals over the years. The team also has one of the more colorful nicknames in college sports. His mother, Stephanie, recalls the decision.

“;We were driving home one night and I turned to Royce and asked, 'Do you really want to be a Dirtbag?' He looked back at me and was like, “;Oh yeah!”;

Former local baseball standouts Collin Tanabe, Brendan Sagara and Casey Onaga have voluntarily worked with Murai and a handful of other kids to get them ready to play at a higher level.

“;Basically, what we do is take a diamond in the rough and make them shine the best they can,”; Tanabe said. “;But they have to have that ambition and Royce is a great example. Good teaching goes a long way, but it's up to the individual on how much they want to apply and put into it. If they do that, the results will come out and I think that is evident in Royce's case. He's come a long way and has a long way to go. But if he keeps on the path he's on, I think he'll just keep going farther.”;

Murai's life is pretty much school and baseball. He likes math and can easily figure statistics like earned run average and on-base percentage. Leisure time is usually spent hanging out with his teammates at the gym or watching other classmates participate in various sports. He dates now and then, but says, “;For now, baseball is pretty much my girlfriend.”;

His collegiate commitment already secured, Murai has more immediate goals. He wants to help Pearl City win another Oahu Interscholastic Association championship and return to the state tournament.

A year ago, the Chargers went into the states with a sizzling 15-1 record and earned the top seed, only to fall 3-1 to Punahou in their first game. Murai and his teammates want to redeem themselves.

“;It was really hard for us, really frustrating on our side after we had such a great season,”; Murai said. “;But the pain we've felt has been fueling the fire for all of us, especially the seniors. Everyone has been working hard since then and we'll be working and practicing harder this year.”;

Pearl City head coach Gary Nakamoto has worked with Murai since his freshman year and witnessed the growth.

In the past, he used Murai at catcher, first base, in the middle infield and as a reliever. This year, the coach plans to put Murai into the starting rotation as well as behind the plate, noting there will be a balancing act to make sure the senior doesn't get worn down.

Nakamoto has always seen Murai's desire and competitive nature, and sees that it sometimes works against him.

“;He's a good kid, but gets upset once in a while if guys make errors behind him or things aren't going well,”; Nakamoto said. “;Now he understands that it affects his game and he's working on it.”;

Ironically, Murai's perceived weakness is part of the reason LBSU took an interest in him. Dirtbags assistant coach Troy Buckley said those emotions can be harnessed into power.

“;That's a plus because it's very difficult to motivate a player, and it's very competitive at this level,”; he said. “;We can help him channel that emotion into something positive. I'd rather have a player like that than someone who didn't seem to care.”;