Leilehua’s Watanuki circles the career bases

When people find out Lane Watanuki teaches at Campbell and coaches baseball at Leilehua, they don’t know if he’s a traitor or not.

Many people ask him how something like that could have happened, and he gives a simple answer. But, no matter what, he’ll continue to get the question when new people learn of his circumstance.

Watanuki was Campbell’s baseball coach for 20 years. Before that, he grew up in Haleiwa and went to Waialua High School, and he has been living in Wahiawa with his family for a long time.

“When my son (Kolby Watanuki) was about 11, I told him that if he didn’t start playing baseball that it was going to pass him by,” Watanuki said on Wednesday about a half-hour after his Leilehua Mules lost an excruciating 1-0 game to OIA West rival Mililani.

The facts bear this out. In a Honolulu Star-Bulletin article from November 2003, Watanuki is quoted as saying:

“My oldest son (Brock Watanuki) is 19 now and I didn’t really get to see him grow up and I feel real bad about not being a part of what fathers and sons normally do. My younger one (Kolby) just started in an instructional league last year, so right now is the time to do it.”

On Wednesday, coach Watanuki admitted that it was Kolby, at the time, who said, “Dad, I will play baseball if you are my coach.”

And so, Kolby went on to play in the youth leagues for his dad and eventually under him for the Leilehua Mules.

Coach Watanuki was happy to see that one of his assistants who had played for him previously got the job coaching the Sabers.

Another direct quote from that same article: “I’d really like to see (former UH player) Rory Pico get it. He’s in charge of our weight-training program and he’s been very valuable to us the last few years. He played for me, graduated from Campbell and was part of that (1995) OIA championship team.”

Well, if you follow OIA baseball, you know Pico has been the coach since then and has continued Campbell’s strong baseball tradition.

Watanuki’s squad this year is off to a 3-5 start, but two of those losses were 2-1 and 1-0 to the rival Trojans, and another one was 3-0 to Pico’s Sabers. Mililani and Campbell are Nos. 1 and 3 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10.

So, as you can see, the Mules are not far away from overcoming those losses, and possibly, moving deep into the postseason.

Help may be on the way in the form of starting pitcher Teaugan Eckstrom, a transfer from Texas.

“He (Eckstrom) was hurt (meniscus in knee) running from home to first in the preseason and the doctor cleared him today,” Watanuki said Wednesday. “That was probably the best news I heard all day. He (Eckstrom) is a big part of the puzzle and, with rehab, he may help us in a hurry.”

The Mules are not light on pitching. Right-hander Trayson Kubo went the distance for a one-hitter in the loss to Mililani. The stout Wayne Abear is among the other valuable Mules hurlers.

Watanuki said he was fortunate to play under current University of Hawaii football coach Norm Chow in baseball and the late Skippa Diaz in football at Waialua, where he graduated from in 1975.

“When I see him now, I call him Coach Chow,” Watanuki said. “I can’t call him by his first name.”

Watanuki also said that many of Kolby’s former teammates are now on the Mules’ staff.

“It has come full circle,” he said.


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