By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
More than 40 years after his final appearance in a University of Hawaii uniform, Derek Tatsuno remains one of the most legendary figures in the history of UH Athletics. In his three seasons as a Rainbow Warrior, the talented southpaw pitcher shattered NCAA records and helped the UH program rise to national prominence. Here are 12 interesting facts about one of the greatest student-athletes in school history:
♦ Tatsuno was born in 1958 and played both baseball and football in his youth. In fact, he played JV football at Damien for a semester, playing cornerback, receiver, defensive end, punter/placekicker and returner. He would return to Aiea High School and focus on baseball.
♦ The pitching prodigy went 27-1 in his four seasons at Aiea. His lone loss came in the 1976 OIA championship game. Aiea lost to McKinley, 1-0, in a game that went 11 innings. Overall, his high school accomplishments included five no-hitters and 13 shutouts.
♦ Despite his prep credentials, Tatsuno was not heavily recruited. Tatsuno signed a National Letter of Intent on an.April 21, 1976 to play for the University of Hawaii and head coach Les Murakami. The Cincinnati Reds drafted Tatsuno (12th round) later that summer, offering Tatsuno $10,000 and an incentive plan. The fledgling star kept his commitment to UH.
♦ Tatsuno made his UH debut on Feb. 27, 1977, in Hawaii’s season opener against Vanderbilt. Pitching the first game of a doubleheader, Tatsuno retired the first 10 batters he faced, then hung on to pick up the win in a 7-5 victory over the Commodores. He struck out 10 batters. He told Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Ohira after the game: “I really wasn’t very pleased with the way I pitched.”
♦ In his second start as a Rainbow, on March 4, he pitched a nine-inning shutout, blanking BYU, 4-0. His overall freshman record that season was 11-2, with 145 strikeouts and a 2.87 ERA. He had 11 complete games that season. With Tatsuno leading the way, Hawaii had 43-13 record and earned the program’s first-ever postseason appearance.
♦ In 1978, his sophomore season, Tatsuno posted a 9-3 record with 161 strikeouts and a 1.45 ERA. He pitched 12 complete games. The highlight of his year came on May 20 when, against the Oregon Ducks, he fanned a career-high 20 batters. Said UH catcher Ron Nomura, “In the first inning he was a little shaky, couldn’t find his pitches, but then he started to flow. He was a complete pitcher, mixing his pitches. He was unstoppable.”
♦ Tatsuno set NCAA single-season records for pitching victories (20) and strikeouts (234) in 1979, his junior campaign. Both records are still standing, although Florida State’s Mike Loynd tied Tatsuno’s mark of 20 wins in 1986. Tatsuno’s final 1979 numbers included a sterling 20-1 record, 234 strikeouts, 1.86 ERA and 3 complete-game shutouts. The Rainbow Warriors went 69-15 that season and advanced to the NCAA Regionals in Tucson, Arizona.
♦ A crowd of 18,345 fans – an NCAA record at the time – came out to Aloha Stadium to witness Tatsuno’s final home game in a Rainbow Warrior uniform.
♦ Tatsuno’s Japanese heritage made him a popular figure in Japan. He took part in a seven-game exhibition series in Japan after the 1979 season, and upwards on 20,000 fans came out to watch him pitch.
♦ Tatsuno skipped his senior season to turn professional. The San Diego Padres drafted the left-hander in the summer of 1979. However, Tatsuno spurned the Padres and signed with a semi-pro team in Japan. Sources in Japan noted that the salary and other benefits amounted to almost four times as much as what the Padres had offered. “In terms of security, my future is set,” Tatsuno told the Star-Bulletin. “I’ve got a job there even if I can’t pitch. Because an athlete can only play for so long, I feel you’ve got to make the best of a situation.”
♦ Tatsuno played two and a half years in Japan before returning to Hawaii. He said the coaches there tried to change his delivery because his catchers had a difficult time handling his pitches. He would play for several minor league teams before calling it a career, including a stint with the Hawaii Islanders in 1987.
♦ The University of Hawaii retired Tatsuno’s jersey number “16” in 1997. He has also been inducted to the UH Sports Circle of Honor. In 1999, Baseball America named Tatsuno to its “All-Century Team.” Also, Collegiate Baseball selected Tatsuno as one of three “Players of the Century.” Tatsuno was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.
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