Baseball creates a lasting community bond.

Years ago there used to be a bronze plaque in the courtyard of Honolulu Hale commemorating Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr., the Father of Baseball. Like many things in Hawaii it mysteriously disappeared (Note: the McCully Chop Suey sign is also missing again). The small puka of fresh plaster where the Cartwright plaque used to be is probably viewed by more people than currently see it in its new location next to the freeway at Cartwright Field.

Although he dreamed up the game of baseball (originally called Town Ball) in New York as a teenager, Alexander Cartwright became a big part of Hawaiian history. He served as Honolulu’s fire chief in the mid-1800s, and was a personal advisor to King David Kalakaua. The king was also an ardent baseball fan. They laid out Hawaii’s first baseball diamond at Makiki Field (now Cartwright Field). In fact, baseball was regularly played in the Kingdom of Hawaii well before it spread across the continental U.S.

Cartwright died before the overthrow of the kingdom with no idea what a huge phenomena baseball would become. He might be most pleased, however, with the impact it would leave on Hawaii by becoming such an integral part of our island culture.

Another perfect evening at the university’s Les Murakami Stadium. Keith Rollman

I regularly attend University of Hawaii baseball games at Les Murakami Stadium. It’s a great venue that includes a picturesque view of Diamond Head beyond the outfield fence. The old “Quarry” area used to be an endless expanse of gravel where students parked, Klum Gym, a huge wooden stairway up to the main campus and the smoldering remains of the ROTC building.

But, it’s not my old UH days I find myself reminiscing about when I attend a Bows game, it’s how the game of baseball has woven itself into the fabric of our community, and into my own Hawaii experience.

I used to bring my twin sons, Parker and Dane, to Murakami Stadium all the time. Now 23 years old and living in California, I still remember them as 10-year-olds sitting in the stands with their gloves on, hell bent on catching a foul ball. They were so focused on that mission that they would often forget the game and go outside the stadium and wait for the high foul balls to bang off the roof after which they’d race to chase it down on the lawn.

My boys were born in Hawaii; and like many other kids growing up here, played Little League or Pony baseball. We lived in East Oahu, which is dominated by the Pony League, so named because each subsequent age bracket has a slightly larger horse name attached to it. The little guys, age 5 and 6 are “Shetlands.” Picture a mob of very small children flailing at a T-ball, and what looks like batting helmets with legs scampering around the bases. As the kids get bigger their skills and athletic abilities grow and the horses get bigger: Shetlands to Pintos to Mustangs to Broncos. There is actually an even younger category that plays with Nerf Balls called Foals, but I’ve never seen them in action.

A few years ago, Coach Trapasso hosted a baseball clinic at Murakami Stadium, where the Pony players got to be coached by UH players and coaches. They absolutely loved getting to play on the “real” diamond, although the bases were farther apart; and hitting in the big boys’ batting cages, even when the ball came a lot faster.

The game of baseball has woven itself into the fabric of our community, and into my own Hawaii experience.

That year, the star attraction was Dusty Baker, then manager of the Chicago Cubs. At the end of the three-day clinic, Dusty gathered all the mini players in the infield and gave each one a signed memento. It was a very kind gesture, but as he neared the end of the list one of my sons, Dane, was squirming. There wasn’t going to be enough stuff left. You could see him withering under the anticipation of being the last kid called and getting nothing. Sure enough, he was the last one left and what started as a big pile of goodies was gone. Dusty looked at this sad, crushed kid and took off his own Cubs cap, signed it put it on Dane. It remains one of his most prized possessions.

Because the Pony teams are largely dictated by the proximity of the families’ homes, the same kids are reunited year after year. So, what you have is powerful community bonding. Whole families, of varying ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds grow up together defending the honor of their baseball ahupua’a with each subsequent generation of baseball kids. The dads (and moms) coach; some focused on hitting, some on fielding, some on pitching.

The dedication is remarkable and in their own way each is imparting important values and skills, and each kid is treated the same … as their kid. After every game, win or lose, the parents, kids, and extended family members then party for many hours with the traditional potluck picnic and talk story. These celebrations of community life are repeated week after week and continue for years.

When our baseball tribe did battle on enemy turf, like dreaded Mililani, or even all the way out to Waialua, it became apparent that the opposing team and their entourage were exactly like us. We were all there doing the same things for the same reasons.

So, Alexander Cartwright’s idea for a game almost 200 years ago compels people in Hawaii today, who might otherwise not even meet each other, to raise their families together. I call that a cultural keeper.

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