1984 world champs from Hawaii remember: 'It's just the greatest feeling'

Ron Nakamura and Scott Sato returned to Taylor this past week, 22 years after they became teen-age heroes for the 1984 Junior League baseball world champions from Pearl City, Hawaii.

Nakamura -- who pitched a five-hitter and hit a three-run homer in the 7-5 championship game victory over Yabucoa, Puerto Rico – is one of the coaches on the 2006 Pearl City team.

Sato – a starting first baseman and pitcher in 1984 – has been in Taylor with his son, Keanu, who is a member of the player on this year’s team. The Satos are believed to be the only father and son to play in the Junior League series.

In 1984, the Junior League consisted of 13-year-old players and there were only five teams in the international tournament: four from the United States and Puerto Rico. Since then, the event has expanded to include 14-year-olds as well and has doubled to 10 teams – five from regions of the United States and five from other countries.

The two men remember a smaller field – the fences in right and left fields were only 250 feet away from home plate, 50 feet less than today. They remember a smaller, wooden press box. They don’t remember the berms that are used by spectators who like to sit on the lawn. And night games didn’t start until the next year.

In the 1980s, players stayed with host families. Today, they stay at the Ramada Hotel in Taylor. When they played in Taylor, Nakamura stayed with the Sicotte family; Sato with the Pizzo family.

“The host families made us feel at home,” Nakamura said. “They took us out to do a lot of stuff. There wasn’t too much we missed, except the beaches. The closest we got to water was a water park.”

Sato said he was “very homesick.” The Pearl City team had been on the road for most of the month, playing the regional tournament in Salem, Oregon, the “divisionals” in Winnemucca, Nevada, and the World Series in Taylor.

He also remembers wearing “ugly uniforms.”

“We had no under armor,” he said. “They didn’t have under armor back in those days. And we wore stove-top hats – that old school Pittsburgh Pirates style. You can look it up in the program.”

Twenty-two years ago, the series was a double-elimination tournament. If your team lost a game, it went into the losers’ bracket. If it lost a second time, it was done. These days, teams are guaranteed four games in pool play. The teams with the best records play for the USA and International championship. The winners play for the world championship.

In 1984, Pearl City won its first two games – 23-13 over Texas and 15-4 over Puerto Rico. The Hawaii-Texas game remains the longest game in World Series history: four hours and 13 minutes. It also set a record for most runs in a game: 36 – a record that was tied 20 years later by teams from Florida and Texas.

Pearl City then watched from the winners bracket while the other teams knocked each other out.

Puerto Rico beat Texas to earn a spot in the finals, but had to beat Hawaii twice to win the world championship. Hawaii could afford to lose a game and play another game.

The Puerto Rico all-stars won the first game on championship Saturday, 7-4. Strangely, Nakamura and Sato don’t remember much about that game.

“It was 22 years ago,” Sato smirked.

There was plenty to remember about the championship game.

“That last game didn’t start out very well,” Nakamura said. “We had to come back from behind. We already were losing, 5-2, in the second inning.”

Sato remembers Nakamura being the star of the game. He came on as a relief pitcher in the second inning and shut down Puerto Rico the rest of the way. His three-run homer tied the game at 5-5. Hawaii won the game, 7-5.

“That was the man that game,” Sato said, pointing at Nakamura. “He carried us through that game, you know. His home run. He came to pitch.”

Nakamura credits his teammates’ fielding. Sato remembers the game ended on “the sweetest double play.”

“I should have kept that ball,” Sato said, laughing.

“What did you do with that ball?” Nakamura asked.

“I don’t know,” Sato said. “There were gloves, hats, everything in the air. That’s what you play for.”

“It’s just the greatest feeling,” Nakamura said. “As a kid, I don’t know what beats that kind of feeling.”

After the series, there was plenty more baseball to come for both men. They played for rival high schools. Sato remembers his Kamehameha School crushing Nakamura’s Pearl City High on the way to becoming 1988 state champions. Nakamura played college ball at Monterrey Peninsula. Today, they play in adult leagues whenever they can.

“I’m still trying to relive the glory days,” Nakamura said.

Nakamura works in his family business and is a part-time bartender. He is single.

Sato is a carpenter. He is married to wife Kris and is the father of three children: Keanu, Kaui, age 1, and Sachi, 2½.

This year’s Pearl City team had to come from behind to win a game, 5-4, over Upper Deerfield, New Jersey. Nakamura got to experience the stress of being a coach.

“Back then it was more tense for us playing, knowing we’ve got to come back,” he said. “Being a coach now, you say to do this. You only hope it comes true. As a player, you just do the best you can.”

This is the third year in a row that Pearl City has played in the World Series. In all, five teams from the city have played in Taylor.

This year’s players touched the sign before every game.

“It’s such a good feeling,” Nakamura said. “Before every single game, they touch the banner and rub it. It was there idea. That’s such an honor. It makes me feel good every time I see it. These kids put their hearts into it.”

Nakamura and Sato say they appreciate all the kindness shown them during their return to the World Series.

“I was excited to come back to Taylor, Michigan, for the first time in 22 years,” Nakamura said. “I’m just soaking it all up.”