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Eric Kadooka, only coach to win 7 consecutive state baseball titles, dies at age 55

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                                Punahou head coach Eric Kadooka was embraced by his players after beating Kailua for the HHSAA Division I State Baseball Championship on May 9, 2009 at Les Murakami Stadium.


    Punahou head coach Eric Kadooka was embraced by his players after beating Kailua for the HHSAA Division I State Baseball Championship on May 9, 2009 at Les Murakami Stadium.

In every sense, Eric Kadooka was a baseball purist.

The former Punahou and Maryknoll baseball coach died on Saturday after a long battle with diabetes and kidney issues. Family, friends and former players paid their final respects shortly before his death. He was 55.

“It really took a toll on his body. Through everything that’s happened, his players have really supported him and tried to get him healthy,” said Kadooka’s youngest sister, Trisha. “We’re super appreciative of all of that.”

Her family took him in for the past three years and looked after him.

“Just in the last couple of weeks, he’s been visited by former players and their parents, all his coaches. It’s been so many years, but all of them coming back, that really helped him accept what’s happening and being OK with going peacefully, being comforted,” she said. “It eased his mind. He said, ‘I lived a great life.’”

Kadooka is one of one, the only baseball coach in state history to lead a program — Punahou — to seven consecutive state championships from 2004 to ’10. He was 25-0 in state baseball tournaments as a coach.

After Punahou, he assisted at other schools, including Kailua. He was Maryknoll’s head coach before stepping down in 2019 late in the regular season.

Former HHSAA Executive Director Keith Amemiya was among those who visited Kadooka on Saturday.

“Eric was one of the greatest high school coaches in Hawaii history, regardless of sport. To win seven consecutive state titles in baseball is a feat that will be very difficult to match, as any baseball coach will tell you how difficult it is to win three to four games in a row to win just one title. But what makes him truly stand out was his passion for the sport, his meticulous preparation, and his love for his own players and Hawaii high school baseball players and coaches in general,” Amemiya said in a Facebook post.

Kadooka was a shortstop at Punahou under then-coach Pal Eldredge, earning All-State honorable mention honors as a senior.

“This is a hard one, Dukie is a hard one for me,” said Eldredge, the longtime color analyst for University of Hawaii baseball. “He played for me. When I was the head of the program it was a lot different than today. Today, you have travel teams, showcases. We don’t have the school summer teams like we used to with Babe Ruth, kids from seventh grade to seniors. We had these guys for six years. You get really close during that time.”

Kadooka was a stickler for fundamentals and work ethic. Eldredge noticed the difference in him off the field during rounds of golf, light-hearted and loose, and when Kadooka was on the diamond.

“I used to joke with him. Hey, Dukie, why you such a grump on the baseball field? He said, ‘I’ve got to be serious. You taught us, stay in the game.’ But you golf with the guy and he laughs for 18 holes. He was such a good golfer and basketball player. I think basketball was his first love,” Eldredge said.

Former Kamehameha coach and UH outfielder Vern Ramie was among those who Kadooka considered his mentors.

“He was just a quality guy. That run he put together, nobody will ever beat that. There’s no way. It takes so much to win one. It takes talented kids, but it also takes a great leader, putting together a great coaching staff,” Ramie said.

“He was good at adapting his strategy according to his team’s strengths. It was based on his personnel. That’s what made it so tough to coach against him. That’s one of the reasons they were successful for so long,”

The Warriors and Buffanblu had many a battle at full intensity whether it was a regular-season matchup or a state crown was at stake.

“There were times the teams would get heated, but he was always respectful and they always played the right way. That’s what I admired about him,” Ramie said. “The one game that always stands out is the state championship game in Maui, extra innings, in 2006, I think. We end up losing 4-3 in extra innings. Every battle was a pleasure looking back on it.”

Ramie learned about Kadooka’s health issues and relished their conversations.

“We had a couple of opportunities to speak, to reflect on those times together on the field. I’m glad I had a chance to show him how much I appreciated what he did, coaching against him,” Ramie said.

Former ‘Iolani coach Dean Yonamine heard about Kadooka’s passing on Saturday night.

“I just got a text telling me about it. All the memories and emotions came back. My condolences to Eric’s family and the Punahou community. He’ll be sorely missed,” he said.

Yonamine enjoyed his interactions with Kadooka.

“I knew him as a player, too, back in those days when my brothers were still playing and Les Uyehara was still the coach. Eric wasn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but a very intelligent player utilizing whatever he has to his advantage,” Yonamine said. “He followed Pal as the head coach. He developed his way of communicating with the kids, being able to nurture and develop talent.”

You don’t recruit all these kids. A lot of them begin at the elementary or intermediate level. Their development was just tremendous.”

The raw hunger for success within the ILH was always special.

“I’ve got to admit, they got the best of us most of the time. The one time we did beat them, we’d come from behind, playing at Ala Wai. He was so intense as a coach. Very professional, but intense wanting to win. I remember seeing his players walking up McCully Street. Don’t tell me he’s going to make them walk all the way back to Punahou. They came back and beat us the next time. He demanded discipline and focus,” Yonamine said.

Their competitiveness evolved into friendship.

“We didn’t really start out being close or friends or anything, but over the years, we were able to talk more, and in the offseason. My last year in 2009 when we won the ILH, he was there at the game (against Kamehameha) and was the first one to come over and congratulate me,” Yonamine said.

They last chatted during the state tournament.

“He’s sitting there and we’re picking each other’s brains, talking about baseball in general, how things have changed. He was definitely very sharp and on top of who the players were, how things are in college,” Yonamine said.

Kadooka coached against Kailua coach Corey Ishigo during state tournaments, then later joined his staff.

“When he first started coaching at Punahou, I got to meet him. We started off from that. We spoke more and more. It was probably a weekly thing. Call each other, talk baseball. He was always about having his players pay attention to details and being perfect at every little aspect of the game. They were accountable for it,” Ishigo said.

Kailua practices were different for Ishigo with Kadooka there.

“More when he was coaching with me, being around him every day, having somebody to talk to. Picking his brain every day, not even talking about baseball. Everything in general,” Ishigo said. “People didn’t know that much about him. He was so loving to everyone around him.”

Ishigo saw Kadooka a final time on Saturday.

“I went to visit. That was rough for me to see him like that, but at least I got to see him,” he said. “It was packed at their house.”

Mid-Pacific coach Dunn Muramaru recalled seeing Kadooka patrol the infield for Punahou.

“He was an Eric Tokunaga type guy, just a solid player. He wasn’t real athletic, just solid. The kind of guy, the ball’s hit there, it’s going to be an out,” Muramaru said. “As a coach, he used to always pick my brains and he must’ve picked it pretty good. He’s always a student of the game, always trying to get better. I’m going to miss him.”

The game has stayed the same, but the times and, to an extent, culture, have changed. From afar, Muramaru saw the challenges facing coaches, including sticklers like Kadooka.

“You know, he knew what it took to win. He was real old school and I think a lot of times, players’ parents and administrators, they didn’t really appreciate what he stood for and what he knew. What he did. To me, that was a shame, but if anything, he really loved the game of baseball,” Muramaru said. “Even after he retired, he came to our games and I really loved talking story with him after the games. He was a baseball guy. I think that’s the biggest compliment you can give. I think he will be sorely missed.”

Former All-State player Alaka‘i Aglipay was a standout utility player, a jack-of-all-trades for the 2010 Punahou squad, the final state-title team under Kadooka. When Kadooka stepped down at Maryknoll in ’19, it was assistant coach Aglipay who took over the program.

“He would call or text me at least once a week during baseball season, and check in and encourage me throughout the year. He was a great leader and mentor for me,” Aglipay said.

As a football and baseball player, Aglipay may have been better suited to old-school coaching styles.

“I first met him when I’d just gotten to Punahou in 2006, sometime after the (Little League) World Series,” said Aglipay, who played for Ewa Beach’s championship team. “I was going into ninth grade. He was very down to earth, always has been. I could tell right away he was very prideful about the school, always talking about the baseball program, the culture and the people who came through it. It was exciting for me, coming from a park-league type of baseball. I knew I was going to like this guy.”

Kadooka’s flexibility was crucial to the program’s growth.

“What I noticed with him over time, shoot I was with him during his peak dynasty era. I’ve seen him change his methods, adapt to the kids we had, whether it’s communication or discipline styles. We could see the success. He knew what to do to push us, stick together and really play for each other. Those were life lessons we talked about,” Aglipay said.

The 2009 season was especially different in tone.

“It might’ve been my junior year. I don’t think we were slated to win (the state title). He was just speaking confidence into us, really preaching that confidence going into the playoffs. You could see him turn it up just a little more at practice,” Aglipay recalled. “ ‘We’re going to get there. Do it like this and we’ll win the game just like this.’ How in the heck did he know that? It’s exactly the way he said it would be. As players, we knew he was all in. Even though we struggled all year, this guy still believes in us winning. Full belief and trust in his players and what they could do.”

That has stayed with Aglipay, who remains Maryknoll’s coach after being one of the youngest in the state when he followed Kadooka.

“I think as a coach I wouldn’t be here in this position if it wasn’t for him. I’m extremely thankful to him and his family for always supporting me as a player, and later as a coach. His mom came to our games. It was awesome to have that support, especially as a young coach. I’m thankful he was my mentor,” Aglipay said. “All of us teammates are still family, still part of that fraternity. As a coach, I want to carry on that legacy and pass down those lessons.”

Kadooka is survived by mother Lorraine Kadooka and sisters, Jo Ann Talmy and Trisha Kim.

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