Wes Nakama: Les Murakami Stadium stands the test of time
HONOLULU — As you walk up the paved pathway leading to the University of Hawaii’s Les Murakami Stadium, you might look up and see some dark soot-like streaks creeping down the facade.
You might think, “Man, this place needs a paint job,” and you’d probably be right.
But other than that, there are not many obvious signs of old age as the stadium that was once the crown jewel of college baseball turned 30 years old on Feb. 17. UH celebrated LMS’ 30th birthday during last weekend’s series against Albany.
In its heyday — from the late 1980s through the early 1990s — Les Murakami Stadium was the best venue of its kind and led the nation in attendance year after year.
Since then, other colleges have upgraded their stadiums and moved past UH on the attendance charts, but the fact the Rainbow Warriors ranked No. 17 in the nation in attendance (3,357 per game) last year despite a 16-35 record (including a 1-15 start) is a testament to Les Murakami Stadium as an absolute great place to watch baseball.
Here are some of the reasons why:
c The seats: Baseball games can be long — Sunday’s 12-6 victory over Albany lasted three hours, 20 minutes — so comfort is important, especially for older fans and those with back problems. All 4,312 of the seats at Les Murakami Stadium are plastic theater-style, with curved bottoms and back rests. They’re also wide enough so that people do not encroach on each other’s space (like at some Major League parks), and each row is steep enough where there’s no problems of your view being blocked by the person in front of you. There’s never a feeling of being “crammed in.”
c The view: Some seats are in better locations than others, but there really is not a “bad” seat in the house — even from the top row. The field was designed with a large infield foul territory which the stadium wraps around, so all of the seats face toward home plate (or at least near it). And even with the large foul territory, the lower deck seats are still close enough to the action where you can see and hear every ball and strike, and the steep upper deck means it is almost “on top” of the action on the field.
c The atmosphere: The stadium is located in a crowded former quarry, smack dab in a dense neighborhood of urban Honolulu. But once you step inside the park, it could just as well be a rural campus stadium in the Pacific Northwest. Only better. Fans in the upper deck have a spectacular close-up view of Diamond Head, and the towering pine trees just outside the outfield wall give a nostalgic and peaceful feel to the area.
If it is a day game, most of the seats are shaded by the roof, but there are enough seats in the lodge and lower lower third-base side for those wanting to work on their tan. The night games — especially Saturday nights when hundreds of youth baseball players fill the upper deck — have an electric feel to them as the crowd noise reflects off the roof.
c The amenities: Even with a full house, you usually won’t see extra long lines snaking out of the bathrooms (especially for the men), and with two full-sized concessions plus smaller snack stands and separate beer lines at either end of the main concourse, there are enough options to grab food or drink and not miss too much of the game. The aisles, rows and concourses are wide enough so that it’s easy to get in and out of your seat, while not bothering your neighbors. The parking structure is only a five-minute walk away.
c The prices: UH raised its ticket prices this year, but even at $12 for the lower section and $10 for the upper, it is a bargain compared to other marquee sports — the cheapest adult ticket for football is $25, for men’s basketball and volleyball it is $18 and for Wahine volleyball it is $12. Senior citizens can watch UH baseball for $6, and for students (high school senior and under) it’s four bucks (UH students get in free). The concession prices are reasonable, and parking is $6 (same as other on-campus sports).
c The history: The field is now made of “Domo Turf” instead of real grass and the stadium itself obviously is much more grand and elaborate than the original Rainbow Stadium, but home plate is in the exact same location it was 35 years ago when Derek Tatsuno was finishing up his All-America and College Baseball Hall of Fame career. His enlarged No. 16 jersey — along with Les Murakami’s No. 11 — is painted on the left field wall. So for older fans, it is very easy to be reminded of UH’s glory years, which included an amazing run to the 1980 College World Series championship game. There is a ton of history, including the All-America feats of Hilo’s own Kolten Wong, packed into the stadium’s 30 years and the years right before it opened.
Having watched games at other “big-time” college stadiums such as Miami’s Mark Light Field and Stanford’s Sunken Diamond, along with visits to other much simpler “stadiums” at Cal, Harvard, Boston College, Florida Atlantic, San Jose State and Cal State Northridge, this reporter can honestly say Les Murakami Stadium is still right up there among the best in the nation.
Even without a long-overdue paint job, it still glistens.