By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The Hawaii Stars of the North American Baseball League are trying to make the local customers feel as comfortable as possible, offering convenience in everything from starting time to food and beverage to ticket accommodations.
The Stars released their full schedule on Thursday, and each series is a six-game set with a 5:35 p.m. start for nine-inning games. The independent league also has an alcohol license and will serve beer at the ballpark and run a concession stand. Tickets will be usable for any individual game.
Last year, the Maui Na Koa Ikaika started their games at 6:35 p.m. and general manager Dan Partney soon discovered his best customers were leaving too early. He said Maui averaged 400 fans at Iron Maehara Stadium; Wong Stadium covers 2,500 in the grandstand. Additional outside bleachers can be added to boost seating capacity to 3,500.
“Last year, I was tired of watching kids leave the game early for bed time,” he said. “It was heartbreaking because the end of the games have the most action. Everything works out better with the earlier start. That way the young ones can watch the entire game. It’s the same thing with sports writers. They’ve got a deadline, too.
“After pau hana, people can come to the ballpark and eat good grinds, drink beer and watch a good show. It’s good for everybody.”
Partney said he is in negotiations with SportsLine owner Stan Costales to have his store as a ticket and merchandise distributor. Another possible ticket outlet is Minit Stop. SportsLine is the team’s first sponsor.
“We’re working really hard in negotiations with Coca-Cola, and anybody that wants to join and get on the bandwagon and get a banner on the outfield fence should give me a call,” Partney said. “With our tickets, if you miss a game, don’t sweat it. All you have to do is come back.”
Each series is six games, obviously, for economical reasons. It costs less for a team to foot the bill for one long road trip instead of two or three shorter ones, paying multiple air fares, along with hotel and transportation costs.
As far as fan interest, Partney believes customers will appreciate seeing five or six different starting pitchers instead of the same three each time if the series were just three games. A six-game series would not only test and tax a team’s pitching staff, but compel each starter to turn in a quality start — to spare the bullpen — likely increasing the level of competitive play.
But more than anything, Partney emphasized it’s the local players who will draw crowds. Winning helps, too.
“Everyone asks me if we’ll have locals. Of course. That’s what the local community wants,” he said. “And another thing to draw fans is winning. I know everyone likes to win. We have to put on a winning team. That’s a fact. We want Hawaii and Maui to be Nos. 1 and 2 in the standings.
“That’s one of our goals this year. Our second goal is we want to put on a good show for the fans. And No. 3 is obviously to get fans out there. We want them to have a good time, eat good grinds, drink beer at the ballpark and enjoy a comfortable environment.”
Being the Maui GM, Partney didn’t put any distinction on which team — the Stars or Na Koa Ikaika — he wanted to be No. 1 in the North Division. Maybe it matters little because he’s also the executive vice president for both teams. Essentially, with two dogs in the race his bases are covered.
Meanwhile, there are no former big-name Major League Baseball players in the fold, at least not at the moment, like Jose Canseco, who was the player/manager for the Yuma Scorpions last season. The league ousted Yuma this season.
However, one well-known name set to pitch for Maui is knuckleballer Eri Yoshida, also known as the “Knuckleball Princess.”
“She’s doing very well in Japan and has a couple of wins,” Partney said. “She had a press conference yesterday and according to her she wants to play on Maui again. We’ll try to have her back.”
Local tryouts will held Monday and Tuesday on Maui. For more information, call 873-7826.
Hawaii Stars schedule
5:35 p.m. start
• Sonoma County Grapes, Tuesday, June 12 to Saturday, June 16. Doubleheader on Saturday; 1:35 p.m. and 5:45 p.m.
• Maui Na Koa Ikaika, Tuesday, June 26 to Sunday, July 1.
• Sonoma County, Tuesday, July 10 to Sunday, July 15.
• San Rafael Pacifics, Tuesday, July 24 to Sunday, July 29.
• Maui, Monday, Aug. 6 to Saturday, Aug. 11.
4:15 p.m. HST
• Maui, Tuesday, June 5 to Sunday, June 10.
• San Rafael, Monday, June 18 to Sunday, June 24. June 21 is off day.
• Sonoma County, Tuesday, July 17 to Sunday, July 22.
• Maui, Tuesday, Aug. 14 to Sunday, Aug. 19.