2007 Hawaii Winter Baseball Preview

See also: Hawaii Winter Baseball Rosters

Hawaii Winter Baseball might have lost one venue, but gained two more as it prepares for its second consecutive season and seventh overall.

With the University of Hawaii’s Les Murakami Stadium unavailable while its turf is being replaced, the four-team HWB will play most of their games at Hans L’Orange Park in Waipahu, a city park that has been upgraded several times since 1996 when the Kauai team became West Oahu, which first used the facility.

The season begins Sept. 29 with the same four teams from a year ago: Honolulu Sharks, Waikiki BeachBoys, West Oahu CaneFires and the defending champion North Shore Honu. Each team will play a 40-game schedule that runs through Nov. 19.

With the two facilities last season, weekday and Saturday games were played at night. But with the new setup, doubleheaders are scheduled for noon and 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. most days. But realizing the noon start might be an inconvenience for spectators who work, the league will take six games to Maui and six to Hawaii island, also known as the Big Island. Games will be played at sites where HWB once had teams. The games on Maui will be played at Iron Maehara Stadium, where the Maui Stingrays of the original HWB played, while games on the Big Island will be played at Wong Stadium, home of the old Hilo Stars. When games are played on those islands, the other two teams will play night games at Hans L’Orange.

But it’s not just the Maui and Big Island fans who will benefit. The players will be treated to tourist attractions on both islands, league president Hervy Kurisu said.

“We’ll take them on tours of the volcano (on the Big Island) and Haleakala (a national park on Maui) to enhance the experience,” Kurisu said. “You can’t get this kind of experience in any other league.”

The league also is tapping into the Asian market since Nippon Professional Baseball will again supply players. In conjunction with Japan Travel Bureau, the league has arranged for a shopping-and-baseball tour package for the Japanese tourists. Just a mile up the road from Hans L’Orange is the Waikele Premium Outlets mall that the bureau already has on its bus tour schedule.

Kurisu said tourists taking the shopping tour will also be offered the chance to attend the noon-start games. There’s also another incentive.

“We’re also providing them an opportunity to meet the Japanese players before the game,” Kurisu said.

The league had positive responses from MLB and NPB after last season. It was Kurisu’s feeling at the time that all 30 MLB and all 12 NPB teams would be contributing players. Last year, 21 MLB teams and 10 NPB teams sent players.

This year, MLB increased to 24, while NPB dropped to seven. Kurisu said he did not know why the teams that are not participating had a change of heart.

“Some teams are sending plenty (of players),” Kurisu said. “They readjusted their budget. I give them credit. They’ve supported us. In that respect, we’re really appreciative.”

He said Dodgers and Rockies are planning to send the most players, seven and six, respectively.

Major league teams not sending players are the Twins, White Sox, Devil Rays, Padres, Diamondbacks and Angels. Japanese teams not participating are the Yomiuri Giants, SoftBank Hawks, Chunichi Dragons, Hiroshima Toyo Carp and Yokohama BayStars.

The latter two didn’t participate last year either.

Managers have been selected. Donovan Mitchell (Mets), of Rookie-level Kingsport, will manage the BeachBoys; Jim Gabella (Royals), of low Class A Burlington, will manage the CaneFires; Kevin Bradshaw (Tigers), of high Class A Lakeland, will manage the Honu; and Randy Ingle (Braves), of low Class A Rome, will manage the Sharks.

Orioles’ first-round pick Matt Wieters, who signed for $6 million on the Aug. 15 deadline. Because he signed late, he will make his pro debut in HWB.

Joining him is outfielder Ryan Harvey (Cubs), the fifth-overall pick in 2003; first baseman Brandon Snyder (Orioles), the 13th overall pick in 2005; and righthander Daniel Bard (Red Sox), the 28th overall pick in 2006. All will play for the Sharks, according to a league press release.

The league is making it a family affair again with sons of former big leaguers. Righthander Jared Lansford (Athletics), son of retired third baseman Carney Lansford; catcher Chad Tracy (Rangers), son of Pirates manager Jim Tracy; infielder Cale Iorg (Tigers), son of former Blue Jays third baseman Garth Iorg; third baseman Chris Johnson (Astros), son of former big league third baseman Ron Johnson (who managed in the Red Sox system at Triple-A Pawtucket this year); righthander Steven Johnson (Dodgers) is the son of former Pirates/Orioles/Tigers pitcher Dave Johnson; and shortstop Justin Sellers (Athletics), son of former Red Sox pitcher Jeff Sellers will all play in HWB this winter.

Players are expected to arrive Sept. 25. They stay in hotels until the season opener, when they are expected to find their own housing. Kurisu said there are about 10 families who have opened their homes to players, much like the way collegiate summer leagues do it.

Seven players from HWB last year made their big league debuts this season: Yankees pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy; Marlins pitcher Rick Vanden Hurk; Pirates outfielder Nyjer Morgan; Padres pitcher Joe Thatcher; Mariners catcher Jeff Clement; and Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz.