Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Bulldogs, 'Bows engage in friendly rivalry

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

In what will be Bob Bennett's last visit to Hawai'i as Fresno State's baseball coach, it only seems appropriate that it will be at Les Murakami Stadium.

WAC baseball

• WHO: Fresno State (23-20, 11-7 WAC) vs. Hawai'i (14-27, 3-12 WAC)

• WHEN: 6:35 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1:05 p.m. Sunday

• WHERE: Les Murakami Stadium

• TICKETS: $6 adults (blue or orange); $5 adults (red); $4 65 and older, students 4-18, UH students with ID (red)

After all, the veteran Bulldogs coach has been a long-time friend of the man bearing the name of the ballpark his team will play in this weekend. The three-game series runs Friday to Sunday.

"Over the years, I've developed a close friendship with Les," Bennett said in a telephone interview from Fresno, Calif. "I've gained so much respect for him. I was really happy to see that stadium named after him."

After last season, Bennett announced that this would be his final year at Fresno State after 34 seasons. He is the seventh winningest coach of all-time — 1,293-752-4 and counting. And like Murakami, Bennett is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and a Lefty Gomez Award recipient for contributions to the game locally, nationally and internationally.

Respect runs both ways for Bennett and Murakami.

"For one thing, he was straight forward," Murakami said of Bennett. "He doesn't bull.... nobody. To me, when you play against him, you'll have a battle. But when it's over, it's over."

Murakami, who was honored during the season opener for the stadium's official name change, said he will try to make one of this weekend's three games to see his old friend.

Murakami and Bennett first crossed paths in 1977, when UH played host to the West Regionals that featured Southern California, Los Angeles State and Fresno State. But their teams missed facing each other.

Then, in the summer of 1978, Bennett was an assistant to Murakami for the USA All-Star team, which played here and in Japan. That's when their friendship began.

"We had a good time when we went to Japan," Murakami recalled.

Since Fresno State joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1993, the coaches have faced each other each season until 2000, Murakami's last on the field with the Rainbows. Murakami missed his true final season last year as he recovered from a stroke suffered in November of 2000.

Bennett was familiar with Hawai'i before meeting Murakami. He remembered playing here as a freshman at Fresno State in 1951.

"We played in the old (Honolulu) stadium," recalled Bennett. "We played a lot of service teams."

Bennett, 68, will retire from the game, and focus on his writing. He has published four books on poetry and four on baseball instruction, and is working on another book on baseball strategies.

"I'll be writing more instructional baseball books and poems," he said.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (23-20 overall, 11-7 WAC) are one of five teams trying to catch conference leader Rice. Fresno State is in third place, a game behind second-place San Jose State, but six behind the third-ranked Owls. The Bulldogs will try to improve their standing against a UH team (14-27, 3-12) trying to make the best of its remaining 15 games.

Although Bennett brings his Bulldogs here on business, he plans to seek out Murakami. The Bulldogs play at UC Irvine tonight before arriving here tomorrow afternoon. They will work out at Murakami Stadium in the evening.

"I have to make sure I call Les Murakami and see how he's doing," Bennett said. "I'm looking forward to that."

So is Murakami.

"We've been good friends a long time," Murakami said. "He's going out when he wants to go out and that's fine. I thought this year was going to be his year."

Notes: Fresno State has one player from Hawai'i in junior left fielder Brendon Suga (Mililani '98), who is a junior college transfer from Laney. Suga is batting .282 in 18 games, starting nine of them. He has started in four of the last five games. Suga was an Advertiser all-state selection in 1998. ... The Bulldogs were 5-1 against the Rainbows last year. The teams will play their 2002 regular-season finale at Beiden Field in Fresno, Calif.