Well, beat the drum and hold the phone, The sun came out today; We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field. A-roundin’ third, and headed for home, It’s a brown-eyed handsome man. Anyone can understand the way I feel.
— John Fogerty, “Centerfield”
The 43rd annual Hawaii State Senior Softball Tournament opened Monday with ceremonies at Ichiro “Iron” Maehara Baseball Stadium. For four days, 62 teams from across the state are playing on eight Central Maui fields, up to 42 games a day. Yes, those numbers are correct.
As you can imagine, an event of this magnitude requires massive planning and coordination, so hosting duties are rotated among the counties. On Maui, the responsibility lies with the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Kaunoa Senior Services Division of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns. Dozens of staff and volunteers contribute thousands of hours and many gallons of sweat to pulling this off every four years.
As a longtime Kaunoa employee, now retired, my earliest tournament duties consisted of refilling water jugs and other go-fer chores. At that 1998 tourney, I marveled at the athleticism of the men and women on the fields, some of whom were the same age as my parents. Nothing could be more inspiring (and gasp-inducing) than a silver-haired centerfielder diving into a one-handed catch. And when I’d check on the water supply in the dugout, some of the older gentlemen, especially from the visiting teams, would make me giggle with their flirty banter.
Now, 20 years later, I find myself in the same age range as many of the players and I’m the one tempted to ogle and flirt. Most are lifelong athletes; the Maui rosters include names that I remember from their Maui Interscholastic League glory days. On the field today, they play with as much enthusiasm and perhaps even more finesse as in their youth. As Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. said, “You could be a kid for as long as you want when you play baseball.”
This year’s tournament is dedicated to a legendary Maui sportsman, Kenji Kawaguchi, former MIL Executive Director and retired deputy director of the Parks and Recreation department. His lifelong involvement with local sports includes organizing the Kahului Boys Club and Pop Warner Football, directing the Maui CYO (Catholic Youth Organization), managing the AJA (Americans of Japanese Ancestry) Baseball League, and more. In 2010, he was named one of the People who Made a Difference by The Maui News. Kenji was unable to attend Monday’s ceremonies, but his brother Robert threw out the first pitch on his behalf.
Fittingly, several of the tournament playing fields are named for other Maui baseball luminaries. Division A games are being held in Maehara Stadium, which bears the name of one of our most noted ballplayers and Little League organizers. Maehara served as Maui County Parks director and as a full-time scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
At the War Memorial Sports Complex, Little League Fields 1, 2, and 3 are named for men who devoted most of their lives to nurturing youth baseball: Thomas “Cheena” Lau Hee, Toshio “Tata” Fujimoto and Vernon A. Correa. The tournament program book details their achievements and asks this week’s players to take a moment to remember these men and their significant contributions to our community.
The booklet contains all 62 team rosters and photos, which are a delight in themselves. Team names range from Action to Zen; some, like the Kona Warriors and the Honomu Rockets, convey serious attitude, while others, including Gomes Trucking and Aloha Kia Lihue A’s, carry the names of sponsors. There are lots of Hawaiian names, of course: Ka Newa, Hui O Na Kolohe, Ka Nani O Honoka’a, Aikane, just to name a few. And then there are the truly local, kinda kolohe ones, like Da Mix Breeds, Oloz, and Guavas. Not surprisingly, those three are Maui teams. We may take our ball seriously here, but ourselves, not so much.
Besides the War Memorial stadium and fields, games are being played at Keopuolani and Papohaku parks. Single-elimination play starts at 8:30 this morning and the division championship games will be played at all eight fields Thursday.
Whether you’re a baseball fanatic or a casual observer like me, I urge you to stop by for a game or two or six. Not only will you see some amazing physical feats, I guarantee you’ll be touched by the camaraderie and aloha displayed both on and off the field.
Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.
— Yogi Berra
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.