The Hawaii Kupuna Softball season in the pandemic era opened with familiar results for Hilo Pomaikai, a 15-1 and 17-0 sweep over Jackie Rey’s on Saturday at Panaewa Park, where everyone followed COVID-19 protocols, such as four players in the dugout and everyone else outside.
There’s a reason Pomaikai have won the last three Big Island championship, and it’s because of their dangerous bats.
Don Ouderkirk recently retired as the fire commander at the Hilo airport, and instead of spending his days fishing or golfing he’s enjoying his time as a pitcher and manager for Pomaikai.
He had a good day at the plate with three hits, including a pair of homers, Mark Gomes had five hits, including a homer, Hale Decker scored four runs, Mike Moniz had two hits, and Steve Markham and Henry Correa each hit a homer.
The players in the 60-and-over league looked like they couldn’t have had a better time, sending base hits all over the field.
Pomaikai scored five runs in the first, second, and third innings in Game 1 and five runs in the first, second and fourth innings in Game 2. That’s a ton of firepower when the bats produce five-run innings so frequently.
Fun is a big part of the success, according to Ouderkirk, who took over as manager from Danny Ayala at the beginning of last season.
“We have a lot of fun to begin with, and we’ve got good ballplayers,” he said. “The camaraderie is great. It helps when everybody is helpful toward each other. I try to get everybody in the game, keep everybody happy.”
That’s not so easy with 18 players because everybody wants to play. So Ouderkirk offers a lesson in coaching: sacrificing self-achievement over team harmony. He pulled himself from more at-bats and a chance to pad his stats in both games.
Pomaikai started training in January and looked ready to go from the jump. But most of all Ouderkirk was happy to be back playing games.
“The county has given us the blessing to help start the season,” he said. “We just have to follow the COVID rules, like social distance. We’re blessed we can play the game.”
There are different brackets from A to H, and the top two Big Island teams will be in the A bracket at states.
Interestingly, the Big Island has the most teams in the state, despite a population of around 200,000 while Oahu is close to a million.
“Maybe they don’t have the use of the parks like we have,” Ouderkirk said. “We have a lot of parks that we can use, thanks to the mayors we’ve had and the current mayor.”
Ouderkirk retired last May and summed up retired life and the return to softball in three words.
“Life is good,” he said.