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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Dad's coaching a labor of love

 •  In Sports: Wai'anae's Kuhaulua signs with Twins

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Fighting back the urge to hug them, Dexter Sardinha instead shakes hands with his sons. For the 44-year-old patriarch of a prominent Hawai'i baseball-playing family, it's easier to pitch batting practice to his sons until his arm aches than to say, "I love you."

A family photo taken four years ago shows in the front row, from left, Dexter Sardinha, the father; Darneen Sardinha, the mother; and Samantha, Bronson and Duke. In the back row are Dane, left, and Brandon.

Photo courtesy of the Sardinha family

He's not a man given to outward displays of affection.

"The only two times I ever saw Dexter cry was at the funerals of his mom and dad," said the former Darneen Akeo, who married her high school sweetheart in 1976. "But he loves his children. He's hard on them, but in an encouraging way."

The couple, who moved from Red Hill into their Peawini Place home in Kahuku 17 years ago, have five children.

Two of their four sons signed $1 million-plus deals to play professional baseball. Dane, 21, is a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds' Mudville Nine minor league team in Stockton, Calif., while Bronson, 18, nicknamed "Bully," will be playing third base this summer for the New York Yankees' rookie team in Tampa, Fla.

A third son, 20-year-old Duke, plays for Pepperdine University, where he's a third-year student pursuing a degree in sports administration. His older brother Brandon, 25, called "Bud," is a Honolulu firefighter assigned to the Kapolei station.

Samantha, 16, called "Sis," plans to attend San Diego State after graduation next year from Kamehameha. Softball is her sport.

Today, Dexter Sardinha is in Stockton watching Dane play baseball. He has been watching his kids play on Father's Day for over half his life.

"I can't believe how lucky I am," the father said. "Bud's got a good job; Dane's in pro ball; Duke will get his degree and be the next one to get drafted; Bully got drafted high by the Yankees, and Samantha goes after her destiny at San Diego State next year. They're all OK, so I feel blessed."

Sardinha can be argumentative and stubborn, his family says, but the children know where his heart is.

"We're all like him as far as expressing affection," Dane said. "We don't hug, we don't say I love you; but inside, we all feel it for each other."

Duke recalled the hours his father has spent coaching him on the side.

"He always has time to work with me," Duke said. "He came up to Pepperdine and threw extra batting practice to me in the batting cages after practice. For me, he shows it that way.

"When I was younger, he was both a coach and dad to me. I couldn't tell the difference. Since I've been away, we've become more like friends."

The father said he doesn't know how to soften his stance.

"It's hard for me to tell them how I feel," he said. "I hold back, maybe, because I think it's a sign of weakness.

"I'm hard on them so they don't end up like me," he added. Sardinha is an electrician for Dennis Chong Kee's company, DNS Electric. "I never went to college. I want them to be better. I saw baseball as a way to go to school for the boys, because no way was I going to be able to afford to send them all to college."

Dane said he appreciates what his father did for him.

"Where we are baseball-wise is because of all the sacrifices he made getting us to practice," Dane said. "My mom's the tough one. Dad only gets mad when we don't work out. He'd watch us play, tell us afterward what we needed to do and leave notes to remind us. He jumps on Bully a lot for not lifting weights. But one day, my brother is going to appreciate what he was pushing him to do."

There was a time when Sardinha would rather be surfing than coaching or watching his sons play.

He grew up in Palolo and graduated from St. Louis in 1974. A catcher, Sardinha was coached by Herb Okamura and late Jim Anderson in high school. But before he was 20 years old, Sardinha was working the graveyard shift at the front desk of the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel to support a wife and child.

"Every day after work, I'd drive to the North Shore to go surfing," he said. "It was my stress relief. By the time I got home, it was time to go back to work."

Sardinha soon had two sons with another on the way.

"Where we were living at in Red Hill, you could only have two children, so we had to move," he said. "We heard about affordable housing behind Kahuku Hospital from Darn's uncle and bought a house for $58,000. It was hard because Darn wanted to stay home with the kids until they went to school."

His wife, who also comes from a baseball family, signed up Brandon to play baseball in Kahuku and asked her husband to coach the team. He declined, preferring to surf instead. The father now regrets that he didn't spend time throwing ball with his oldest son.

"Bud came home from practice one day and I took him in the backyard to throw," he said. "He was having a hard time throwing and catching.

"Dane was about 5 years old. He watched and then kept saying 'Oh, dad, I can do that.' So I gave him a glove and threw a ball to him. He caught it and threw it back from about 25 feet away. I said, 'Wow!' I kept throwing with him and forgot about Bud."

The father, however, refused to coach, even when Dane started playing.

"Darn and her friend, Guylyn (Welch Ornellas), decided to coach Dane's team," he recalled. "I started watching them. It was bad. Just to warm up, it took an hour and a half. Two days later, I was coaching."

It was a turning point, one that may have saved their marriage, says Darneen Sardinha.

"Because we hardly ever saw him, baseball became important," she added. "It brought him back to us.

"He doesn't say it to them, but he loves his children. They understand. He's so patient as a coach, but it isn't always that way away from the field."

Sardinha and his wife started building a strong baseball program. Dane was with the Kahuku Indians' team, a powerhouse in PONY baseball with strong athletes such as catcher Mike Tejada, a 1999 Colorado Rockies draft pick who is now playing for Asheville in the South Atlantic League, Greg Omori of the University of Hawai'i, and college football stars Wes Tufaga and Kautai Olevao of the University of Utah.

"We didn't have enough players, so I'd go around Kahuku and ask kids if they wanted to play," Sardinha said. "That's how I got Mike Tejada.

"I got hooked on coaching that first year. We needed to play better competition to get better, so I started asking for games away (in addition to league games). "

For the past few years, Sardinha has declined offers to coach at the high school level to fulfill a personal commitment.

"I told my boys that I wasn't going to start coaching high school until Bully graduated," he said. "I just didn't want not to be able to watch them all play."

"He's got something special," said Eric Castillo, Sardinha's work supervisor at DNS Electric. "Whatever he teaches is instilled in his kids, because all of them are respectful."

Rod Ohira can be reached by phone at 535-8181, or e-mail at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.