One of the more popular collegiate baseball programs today resides at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, calling Les Murakami Stadium its home.
Initially known as Rainbow Stadium after head coach Les Murakami led the efforts for the new stadium, it had to be built quickly as it would sit on the same grounds as the previous home, the University of Hawaii Stadium. It was constructed in roughly nine months at an initial cost of $11.2 million and opened in February of 1984. The University would soon get a return on the stadium with greater attendance, as the capacity increased from 2,500 at the old stadium to over 4,000 at the new.
With all of green in the Hawaii landscape, it’s no surprise that the initial surface was natural grass. Appropriately enough, the basepaths were a mix of sand and crushed lava rock. Unfortunately, initial plans did not work out as hoped and an additional $1 million in costs were added (bringing total cost to $12.2 million) for a roof over the seating area and switching the playing surface to Astro Turf.
Renovations have since occurred (speakers, roofing, scoreboard), but most welcomed by the players was the switch from Astro Turf to Domo Turf in 2008. The new turf is polythylene “grass” blades with rubber infill granules, which has significantly reduced player injuries. The batter’s box and pitching mound are the only areas of the field that appear to have real dirt. It was around this same time that the seats were changed from the unappealing red, orange, and blue colors to green in an effort to improve the aesthetics of the stadium to align with the school’s colors of green.
Today, Les Murakami Stadium sits with a capacity of 4,312 and has three WAC titles to its name. Of the total seats, over 85% of them are covered to protect fans from the “Manoa Mist” that frequently makes appearances.
In 2001, the University renamed the stadium after the man who led the baseball program for 31 years, changing the name to Les Murakami Stadium. Some fans even affectionately call it “the house that Les built” for the man that was not only the school’s first Division I coach, but also led Hawaii to the College World Series in 1980.
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While the food and beverage options are not as extensive as they are at the Stan Sheriff Center, the value is still one of the best in collegiate sports. Fans can get a whole meal for the same cost as a single box of chocolate covered pineapples at the nearby Dole plantation.
Larger items included sub sandwiches ($5), Eisenberg All Beef Hot Dogs ($2.50), Warrior dog ($4.75, add $1 for chili), chili frank plate ($5), cheese nachos ($2.50 or add chili for 50 cents), pizza slice ($3.75), chili bowl ($2.25), or saimin, a Hawaiian noodle soup ($2.25).
The two "combo" options included the teriyaki burger with fries ($4.25) and chicken strips with fries ($3.75). Smaller side items included the churro or pretzel ($2), french fries ($2.25), Enjoy-brand snacks ($2.50), assorted candy ($1), Italian ice ($4), popcorn ($1.75), and peanuts ($2.50). A popular snack item is the roasted macadamia nuts. Fans could receive a small bag of these or chocolate covered raisins, pecans, or almonds for $4 or two for $7.
The beverage options included bottled water ($2.75), Pepsi products (20 oz for $2 or 32 oz for $2.50), coffee ($1.75), hot tea or cocoa ($1.25), bottled soda ($2.75), Gatorade ($3), Sobe Life Water ($2.75), lemonade ($3.50), and Rockstar energy drink ($3.50).
Finally, in what I would deem the best value in all of sports was the price of beer at the ballpark. The value price of beer translated to many fans lining up for a purchase throughout the game (yet, surprisingly all remained well-behaved). The mass Domestic drafts were offered in either a16 oz for $5 or a 32 oz for $7. The more premium names such as Heineken and Gordon Biersch had a 16 oz option for $6 and 32 oz for $8. The non-alcoholic O'Douls was also on hand for a mere $2.50 and those interested in wine could have a glass for $5.
In all of my college and minor league baseball visits, Les Murakami Stadium hands down provided the best atmosphere. Interestingly enough, there were few promotions between innings. The aura seems to create itself with the quality team on the field.
As is the case with all Hawai'i events, it starts off with not only the National Anthem, but also the playing of Hawai'i Pono'ī, which is the former national anthem of the state from when it was a territory.
Certainly, there were a few levers pulled to get the fans engaged including a "casual" t-shirt toss, but everyone seemed to be most interested in the live play. Fans were reacting to every at-bat and as I walked the concourse I often mistook a routine ground out for a home run by the boisterous applause in the seating areas.
There's a nice ambiance to the stadium, with the tall trees outlining the outfield wall, the school's green colors on all seats, and a nice Under Armour sign next to the dugout with the Hawai'i logo that reads, "Protect This House."
The organ was used heavily and the crowd would clap along at any opportunity. I have never witnessed a crowd that was so into the action without being cued in any specific way. These fans love their baseball team and it certainly created a both fun and entertaining atmosphere.
Outsiders who visit Honolulu may be amazed by how close the campus is to a robust downtown area and Waikiki Beach. I would argue that few campuses nationwide offer such a diverse number of restaurants in the general vicinity of campus. Many of the nearby establishments offer sushi, fast food, Indian, Korean, Hawaiian BBQ, Thai, and even Vietnamese.
The baseball and basketball venues sit on campus, as opposed to Aloha Stadium (home of the Hawaii Warriors football team). Stan Sheriff is still in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor (and USS Arizona Memorial), the Diamond Head Crater, and the Punchbowl National Cemetery.
Two establishments that I tried after the game due to cues from local television commercials included Mac 24/7 and Zippy's.
Mac 24/7 is a bar/restaurant that really made its claim to fame with its Man vs Food exposure. The Mac Daddy Pancake Challenge offers 5 different options of three 14" pancakes that need to be eaten in 90 minutes. If you complete, you will be awarded as a "Mac Daddy," get your meal free of charge and get a photo on the Wall of Fame.
Zippy's is a well-known casual fast food chain on the islands of Oahu and Maui. This 24 hour establishment does not limit itself to any one cuisine type, offering a mix of American, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Hawaiian. While chili is their claim to fame, they also take pride in their locally grown meats, coming from ranches on the islands of Hawaii.
It is difficult to challenge the devotion of the Hawaii fans. Despite living in what many describe as paradise with numerous entertainment options, over 2.5 million fans have attended Hawaii baseball games since 1984. The team has led the NCAA in attendance on two occasions. The first was in 1986 when the stadium averaged 2,599 fans and again in 1992 where they experienced their best year of 4,433. Not to dwell on the past, as recently as 2011, the team was 17th in attendance across all of Division I baseball with 3,320 fans per game.
While it seemed to take them a bit to arrive, the stands were mostly full by the end of the third inning. The fans here did not rely on the PA system to get them involved as they seemed to be hanging on every play. Noticeable groans were present after a Hawaii player struck out or hit a foul ball. When the Hawaii players made a great offensive or defensive play, the crowd would show its appreciation in such a way that it could probably be heard on the shores of Waikiki Beach.
The fans also took every opportunity to distract the opposing players. When the visiting team reached first base, several fans sitting on that side began to jeer the baserunner. When the opposing pitcher began to struggle, the PA system played Queen's "We Will Rock You," and the fans went nuts in an attempt to further shake the pitcher. Even though there is not permanent seating in the outfield, even the opposing centerfielder faced some jeers as fans set up temporary seats on a hill beyond the outfield face, allowing them to peer into the action.
Fans driving on the H1 freeway can spot the lights of Les Murakami Stadium and it is just a few turns off of the exit. Like any metropolitan area, there can be quite a bit of traffic congestion, and fans should be advised to allow plenty of time to get to the stadium.
Parking required a permit that ran at a cost of $6 daily, which is on par with most mainland collegiate and minor league programs.
The restrooms were small, but they did manage to cram quite a few stations inside and the crowds came and went rather quickly. Despite a large attendance on this evening, I did not notice any backups at any of the restrooms despite the 32 ounce beers.
The concourse was spacious, and the steps were not at all challenging to get to the second level. The scoreboard would probably be improved, and it appeared that the videoboard was not in operation on this evening.
Having participated in many of the attractions on the island of Oahu, I cannot suggest a better value than Rainbow baseball. Ticket prices at $9 for lower level seating at an upper echelon Division I program still stuns me. The upper level still provides great, unobstructed views at $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for students. I would consider these prices to be a great value at any Division I school, let alone one with a great stadium and tremendous atmosphere.
Parking is a reasonable $6 and I consider the concessions to provide the best value pricing that I have ever witnessed at a college event. Pairing these together provides my most convincing Return on Investment score to date. I would challenge anyone to come forward with a better entertainment value (for all ages) on any of the islands of Hawaii.
The first thing that caught my attention in making the simple climb to the upper concourse was the spectacular view of the tip of Diamond Head Crater just before sunset. Fans can hike the Diamond Crater free of charge and if they make it to the top, they can look down at the University of Hawaii campus.
Embracing the program's history, fans can spot the retired numbers of Derek Tatsuno (16) and Les Murakami (11) in the left field corner. On the lowest level, fans will find framed photos of recent 2010 and 2011 WAC Championship teams. There are also display cases filled with historic items from years past.
The Bud Light Bullpen is found in right field and is a popular spot for large groups that want to check out a Rainbows game.
Les Murakami Stadium has also been the home of the minor league Hawai'i Islanders in 1986, the Hawai'i Winter Baseball League, and the Hawai'i Island Movers summer baseball club has called the facility home for more than two decades.
In all of my reviews for Stadium Journey, Les Murakami Stadium was easily my most pleasant surprise. Not only were the aesthesis of the stadium beyond expectations, the fan support puts this venue over the top. Oahu is a popular vacation spot for many sports fans, and the sun does occasionally go down, so do yourself a favor and spend a few hours with one of the best programs in college baseball.**Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew.
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