The Magical UH Spring Of 1979
With the NCAA baseball tournament in full swing and every team working so hard to win and advance, it’s fun to remember the first time University of Hawaii earned a victory in the NCAA tournament.
It was 35 years ago, in 1979. The ‘Bows, who had started their baseball program with a part-time coach by the name of Les Murakami only eight seasons before, first made it to the NCAA tournament in 1977, but they quickly were eliminated in just two games.
But 1979 would be a different story — a wonderful story.
It began on opening night at the old Rainbow Stadium, well before the new stadium was built. On a cool February evening, Mark Olmos pitched a gem against powerful Oregon State, and the Rainbows won 2-1 on Vern Ramie’s game-winning sacrifice fly. Hawaii was one year away from joining the WAC, so they played an independent schedule, and Murakami loaded it with powerhouse teams and played as many doubleheaders as opposing teams could stand.
The 1979 team included star leftie Derek Tatsuno, the All-American pitching ace from Aiea High, plus Thad Reece, Ron Nomura and a young red-headed catcher by the name of Howard Dashefsky.
“I remember being the bullpen catcher and warming up Tats before games,” Dashefsky recalls. “We would have more than 100-plus people sitting around just watching him warm up, and that just blew me away.”
Tatsuno won his first 20 games that season on his way to one of the most dominating seasons in college baseball history. Along the way, he recorded 245 strikeouts, still an NCAA single-season record.
“We were 60 and 3 at one point of the season, and were ranked No. 1 in the nation. It seems pretty ridiculous, but we did it against some very good competition,” Dashefsky says.
Excitement for the team grew by leaps and bounds, until the bleacher seats at old Rainbow Stadium couldn’t contain all the fans.
“We went to Aloha Stadium and Tats threw in front of more than 20,000 people. At the time, it was the largest crowd ever for a college baseball game,” Dashefsky adds. “It was pretty freaky; sitting in the dugout, you didn’t see anybody, but then you would go out on the field and the entire ballpark was filled from first to third base, all the way up.”
By the time the regular season came to an end, Hawaii had 67 wins against just 13 losses. Their first-ever NCAA tournament wins came against Indiana State and Oklahoma.
“I remember the regional at University of Arizona and hitting the game-winning home run that gave Tats his NCAA record,” Dashefsky says.
The ‘Bows finished 69-15, falling to Arizona in the regional finals.
The next year, Hawaii made it all the way to the finals of the College World Series, again losing to Arizona. The ‘Bows played in the NCAA tournament six times during the ’80s. But it was that 1979 team that really established them. Tatsuno set all kinds of records and was voted one of the greatest college baseball players of last century. Reece, meanwhile, still holds the all-time single season record for hits by a
Hawaii player, 113, one better than teammate Curt Watanabe, who had 112. “I’ve never been a part of a team so tightly knit together, and hammering everyone that dared play us,” Reece says today. “It was fun, fun, fun.”
Many names became part of Hawaii baseball lore. Nomura went on to a long career as Murakami’s assistant, Ramie was the longtime Kamehameha head coach, and Dashefsky, of course, is still one of Hawaii’s top broadcasters.
But back in 1979, they were the Boys of Spring, the headline-makers in a season to remember for Rainbow baseball fans for all time.