LAHAINA - Baseball was big in Lahaina as Blaine Bernades grew up in the 1980s and '90s, but after he moved on to his education and a career as a player and coach at Mesa State College in Colorado, the glitter of diamond games on the West Side dulled dramatically.
Today, West Maui Little League has but two Major Division (for 11- and 12-year-olds) teams, when in the past the program at its peak would field up to five full rosters and made deep runs into the post-season all-star tournaments.
The negative progression reached up to the high school program at Lahainaluna High School, as the once Big Red Machine of the Maui Interscholastic League has fallen on tough times, with wins becoming a rarity rather than the norm.
Coach Blaine Bernades said the baseball team takes pride in their defense. PHOTO BY ART FILLAZAR.
"Baseball was strong in the days of my grandpa, Tamotsu Kawamoto, and the Kawaguchis (Kenji, Bob, Alan). But today, sports like wrestling and basketball are more attractive to the kids, and their emergence has been a hard hit on baseball," said Bernades, now into his second year as coach of the Lahainaluna team.
"It's a tough commitment to make for the kids and parents to play baseball, but the ones that do are all good kids that really love the game."
The Lunas have been in a drought for several years now, and the tough times continue into the 2013 season. Lahainaluna is 1-8 coming into the homestretch of the regular season that will be followed by the MIL Tournament and the Hawaii High School Athletic Association State Championships that will be played here on Maui at Iron Maehara Stadium in mid-May.
"Well, I hope we have a shot at the MIL Tournament title to get a ticket to the state tournament," said Coach Blaine last week from the dugout of the baseball field at the Lahaina Recreation Center.
"We've been close to both Baldwin and Maui High (the current MIL leaders) aside from a couple of bad innings. We just haven't been able to play a complete game yet. We're a work in progress with the motor running but not yet clicking on all cylinders. They're learning and learning and gaining a new mentality of the game - it's demanding. They're great kids, and I know they love the game and the school... this is a testament to them."
Coach Blaine is assisted by another one of Lahaina's lifelong baseball advocates - his dad, Brandon Bernades - as well as Wes Medeiros, KK Kukahiko and Jason Keanini.
The player roster includes seniors Noah Camara and Jared Arakawa; juniors Brandon Kaina, Kaimana Ancog, Kaimana Casco DeLeon and Aaron Naea; sophomores Ryan Delatori, Kamoana Kalanikau, Ken Brito, Malama Cabagua, Kuu Palea, Falcon Johnson, Amateo Flores, Akoni Hamilton-Golis and Shawn Lopez-Naea; and freshman Jacob Mahon.
"This is an athletic bunch, and they take pride in their defense. We just lack baseball experience - that puts us behind the eight ball against the bigger schools. Hopefully, we can get more kids out to play the game in their younger years," Coach Blaine concluded.