Hawaii's park icon mourned
If you were even an occasional spectator at Hawai'i Islander or the University of Hawai'i baseball games, chances are you knew Howard Hiroshi Egami.
Well, maybe not the name past the familiar "Howard" — but certainly the man.
He never picked up a bat for either the Islanders or Rainbows and, yet, for decades, he was an ever-present part of the experience of attending a game at Honolulu Stadium, Rainbow Stadium and Aloha Stadium.
His voice resonated at Honolulu Stadium where, as a vendor at Islander games, he worked the old wooden steps as if they were his front porch. And, in a way, they were. For he did more than sell peanuts. He was an unofficial greeter, welcoming regulars and tourists alike to the old "Termite Palace." He admonished mischievous kids and traded insights with major league scouts.
Best place to catch a foul ball? Ask Howard. How long until the menacing clouds up in the valley were likely to roll in with rain? Howard could tell you.
His death recently at age 77 recalls a time, now fading, when you could not only get a snack sold at your seat but go to a game and feel among extended family.
Egami, a custodian by profession, was of a disappearing generation, before ESPN, pay-per-view and premium seating, when a night at the ballpark was like "Cheers" and you knew a lot of the characters, from the third base coaches and public address announcer to vendors, on a nodding basis.
"He was humble and hard-working and, for a lot of us older guys, he was synonymous with the old stadium," said Dr. Glenn Uto. He was pointed out on his bike around town, a celebrity. In later years, people would ask Egami to autograph copies of Arthur Suehiro's book, "Honolulu Stadium: Where Hawaii Played" and pictures of the stadium.
But even when he wasn't barking his wares, if there was a ballgame, chances are Egami was there as a fan, decked out in cap and logo T-shirt. "We shared the same (first) name so we always greeted each other," recalls KHNL news anchor Howard Dashefsky who came to know Egami while playing first base for the Rainbows (1979-'82).
"In those days you shared a certain intimacy with the fans at the old Rainbow Stadium," Dashefsky recalls. "You'd talk to them through the chain link fence. We didn't have our own locker rooms (at the stadium) so we'd get in line with them for the bathrooms. You'd say, 'I'm batting third this inning, can I cut in line?' "
When the Islanders played their last game here in 1987, Egami was on hand with a sign proclaiming: "Thanks Guys!! Aloha!"
You, too, Howard.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.