For 25 years, Don Takaki and his Hawaii Island Movers have delivered goodwill through handshakes, bows and baseball
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 25, 2011
It is a simple game of complexity. The right balance of mental and physical. And the perfect vehicle for a cultural exchange.
But 25 years after Don Takaki first took the Hawaii Island Movers baseball team to Hiroshima for a goodwill series, the sport has an even bigger mission over the next few weeks in Japan.
The healing power of baseball will step to the plate, returning a bit of normalcy to areas affected by March's earthquake and tsunami. College players from the devastated prefecture of Sendai will be added to the Movers' roster for the 25-day, 17-game road trip with games in Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kansai, Osaka and Sapporo.
"After the disaster situation, we discussed what we should do this year," said Takaki, chairman and CEO of HawkTree Inc. "But we've been doing this for so long we wanted to keep spreading the aloha.
"We are doing the ‘Aloha Japan' campaign, wear those T-shirts when we warm up. We have the opportunity to help the Japan Red Cross and we'll be seeking donations. Really, baseball is about 5 percent of the mission."
That's been the feeling ever since that first trip. It's about education, learning about other cultures and watching differences disappear with handshakes and bows.
The goodwill tour dates back to the Movers' involvement in the Alaska Baseball League, when the summer team was comprised mostly of University of Hawaii players. The Movers were making three trips a season to Alaska; the opportunity arose to add Asia to the travel itinerary.
In 1992, an NCAA ruling prevented a college baseball team from remaining intact over the summer. The Movers eventually left the Alaska League, becoming an independent, but the goodwill trip remained.
"What is important is not that it's 25 years, but that it's been continuous for 25 years," Takaki said. "We have built relationships and, this year, we may be playing against a second-generation player, one whose father played against us.
"What we instill in our players is that they are ambassadors of Hawaii. They are making the first impression people get of Hawaii."
Takaki was a multi-sport athlete at Maui High, quarterbacking the Sabers. Baseball wasn't his best sport, but it was part of his DNA … as is his support of athletics in Hawaii.
The chairman of ‘Ahahui Koa Anuenue — the UH athletic fundraising organization — was recently honored by the Oahu Interscholastic Association for contributions to high school athletics.
In his speech at last month's OIA Athletic Foundation banquet, Takaki stressed the legacies people leave, and sharing those legacies.
"We have to make sure we are doing the right things, teaching the right things," he said. "It's part of the legacy of our (Movers) program. Some of our (former) players are now coaching and are passing along what they learned."
Former UH pitcher Rich Olsen didn't play for the Movers, but he has been involved with the organization since the 1980s. The Kailua High graduate is now the head coach.
"This year is more special than ever," said Olsen, who played two seasons in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers. "Considering what happened three months ago we're happy that we are able to continue the connections from Hawaii and to have players from that area (Sendai) with us.
"It's a unique group of guys, players from Hawaii, the mainland and Japan, and we mesh everyone together. This is so much bigger than the baseball side, it's a cultural experience. And the players get a taste of what it is to be traveling like a professional team."
The Movers had a dress rehearsal — literally — today. The team traveled to play the Maui All-Stars at War Memorial Stadium and "it prepped our newest guys on travel," Takaki said. "They have to be neatly groomed and wear what we will be traveling in (to Japan).
"We aren't going to radically change how they play in their short time with us, but we can refine their techniques. More importantly, we can give them the mental part of the game, the spiritual side of baseball, that part of getting to know yourself.
"I learn more from the kids than they learn from me. Hopefully, we're doing something worthwhile."
The Movers return home for their final five games, July 25-31, at Les Murakami Stadium. They then will host the Hawaii International Baseball Championship Tournament on Aug. 4-7, which features three Japanese college teams, including Sendai, to conclude the summer season.