POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 22, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 8:36 p.m. HST, Sep 23, 2010
Robert "Bobby" Oshiro always hits a home run as head cook for his senior softball league.
The 70-year-old Hawaii Kai resident, who plays in two "makule" (elderly) leagues, is known for his sharp culinary skills, organic green thumb and, most of all, his generosity toward his teammates and elderly in the community.
"This is what keeps us young," Oshiro said. "I've got a lot of aches and pains, but because we stay active we haven't fallen apart yet."
The first baseman volunteers his time to feed the roughly 20-member team while traveling to softball tournaments every year. He also is an organic vegetable grower who shares his harvests with his teammates and longtime friends, some of whom can no longer participate in the sport.
"He loves sharing — this is why he has this big vegetable garden," said Oshiro's girlfriend Karen Shota, who lives part time in California. "He shares mostly with the seniors on our street, widows, people downtown. He really cares for people, that's why giving for him is just a very easy thing — that's what he likes doing."
Oshiro typically plants at least a dozen different vegetables, including 250 heads of Manoa lettuce during growing season to share with friends. His home garden in Hawaii Kai spans 15 by 50 feet and produces enough organic greens for 40 to 50 people each year.
Among his harvests are Okinawan sweet potato, bitter melon, Chinese broccoli, string beans, okra, eggplant, tomato, green onion, chives, Chinese parsley, basil and green peppers. He also has a hothouse full of anthuriums, which he grows to decorate the graves of friends and family.
Every so often he brings his wok to the softball games and cooks up a special meal for the entire team.
"He's one of the good guys," said teammate Nick Dubovsky. "He's a guy who always makes me feel good when I'm around him. He always has a positive attitude and he always lifts other people's spirits up. He still has a lot of spunk in him."
Oshiro began playing softball consistently 35 years ago. Team practice is twice a week, while gardening takes an average of two to three hours a day.
Besides sports, cooking and gardening, another passion is woodcraft, the decorative results of which he also gives freely to friends and charitable organizations. He creates letter openers, pen and pencil sets, base holders, as well as ikebana and sushi stands.
"I'm a pure hobbyist, everything I do is a passion," Oshiro said. "I'm a real particular guy, I do things methodically. I like to see results."
Some of his hobbies over the years have come out of necessity.
As a single parent, the Hilo High School graduate was forced to cook — a chore that eventually became fun.
The retired electrician and former Army Green Beret grew up on a Big Island farm, harvesting sugar cane in Hakalau — 15 miles north of Hilo on the Big Island's Hamakua Coast. He is the third oldest in a family of 10.
Each year he makes a trek to Washington state to root for his favorite team, the New York Yankees, when it plays against the Seattle Mariners. But it's the camaraderie at home that he enjoys the most and that keeps his mental and physical well being in top shape.
"Softball is a remarkable thing at their age," Shota said. "They come out and want to be a part of it. It's really such as good thing for them — the bonding, the compassion for each other — they need to be a part of something like this, it's really important."