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By Jeff Harada, assistant director , HPU Athletics

 

 

Growing up, Agbayani dreamed of playing in the World Series. He imagined hitting that game-winning home run and trotting around the bases to the cheers of 50,000 fans. Through hard work and dedication, the ‘Aiea native was one of the few able to live out his childhood dreams.

In 2000, as a member of the New York Mets, his game-winning home run in the bottom of the 13th inning gave the Mets a 2-1 lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series. A game later, they wrapped up the series and headed to the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Agbayani stayed red hot in that series, hitting .353 (6-17) with three doubles and four runs batted in. The Mets cruised past the Cardinals four games to one and headed to the World Series against cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees.

Dubbed the “subway series” because of the close proximity of Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium, Agbayani was about to make his dreams a reality. “Going to the World Series is something that I will cherish forever,” he said. “The hard work it takes to get there, along with the sheer excitement is just electrifying.” The Yankees won the series 4-1, but the experience of playing in the World Series was priceless. “Even though we lost, just being there was like living out a dream. Some players play their whole career without making even the playoffs. I was fortunate for having the opportunity so early in my career.”

Five years and three teams later, Agbayani found himself in the least likely of places, playing professionally in Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines. After getting traded from the Mets in 2002, Agbayani played for the Colorado Rockies, Boston Red Sox, the Cincinnati Reds, and finally the Kansas City Royals.

Before ever playing a game for the Royals, Agbayani received a call from Japan, where his former Mets Manager, Bobby Valentine, was now manager of a struggling Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese Professional League. Valentine was looking for some much needed offensive firepower. “He called me and said there was a spot for me on his team,” said Agbayani. “After all that was happening at the time, I thought it would be a good opportunity for a change in scenery for me.” Ironically, it was Valentine who called Agbayani up from the minor leagues and gave him his first chance with the Mets in 1999.

As fate would have it, the Marines advanced to the postseason this year, with Agbayani providing clutch hits along the way. In one game, after driving in the winning run to seal their first-round victory over the Seibu Lions, Agbayani hit a two-run tie-breaking single, leading the Marines to a 4-2 win over the Softbank Hawks in the first game of the second-stage playoffs. The Marines would win the series and advance to the Japan Series for the first time in 31 years against the Hanshin Tigers.

With momentum on their side, the Marines swept the Tigers in four games and clinched the Japanese Championship. In the series opener, Agbayani batted 3-4, with a home run and two RBI. “Winning the series was such an awesome feeling,” said Agbayani. “To come out on top was great for the city, the fans, the players, and the franchise.”

The 34-year-old Agbayani began playing baseball at age five. He was an all-state player at St. Louis High School, and later honed his skills at Hawai‘i Pacific University from 1989-1993. He still holds several school records, including most home runs in a season (10), most stolen bases in a season (37), career stolen bases (83), and is in the top five all-time in runs scored, triples, and home runs. He is the only HPU player to ever play in the big leagues, and is also the only Sea Warrior named NAIA First-Team All-American (1993). “Playing at HPU was a great experience for me,” he said. “The relationships I’ve built and the support I’ve received from day one until now have been tremendous.”

With all his success, Agbayani still remains humble, not forgetting who he is and where he came from. Drafted in the 30th round in 1993, most gave him no shot of ever making it to the big leagues. In 1999, after five years in the minor leagues, he got his chance, hitting 10 home runs faster than any other Met in the history of the franchise. “I always believed I would make it to the majors,” he said. “Luckily I was in the right place at the right time, and all the hard work paid off.”

In between baseball seasons, he returned to HPU and graduated in 2003 with a degree in human services. “I promised my wife I would go back and get my degree,” he said. “You never know when your career may end, and it’s always good to have that degree as a backup.”

Upon receiving his diploma from HPU President Chatt Wright, he reached into his pocket on stage at the Waikiki Shell and presented an autographed baseball to President Wright. “Benny has been a great ambassador for the sport of baseball, the state of Hawai‘i, and his alma mater, Hawai‘i Pacific University,” said the HPU President. “We applaud his professional success in the United States and Japan, and I look forward to personally congratulating him upon his return to Hawai‘i.”

Baseball is so much in Agbayani’s blood that he even got married at home plate before the 1998 AAA All-Star game in Norfolk, Virginia. Former teammate and current Sea Warrior Head Baseball Coach Garett Yukumoto said Agbayani is a perfect example of perseverance and dedication. “Benny was one of the fortunate one’s who was able to live out his dream. Not many players can say they participated in an American and Japanese World Series. His hard work definitely paid off.”

Yukumoto, who remains close friends with Agbayani, is also the director of MYTH (Motivate Yourself to The Highest), Agbayani’s foundation which helps support and educate youth about the necessary skills needed to succeed as a baseball player. “We hold clinics for the kids in Hawai‘i, and I try to help them understand that anything is possible if they set their minds to it,” said Agbayani. “I want them to realize how important their education is, and how you need to go into everything you do with no regrets.”

With the Japanese Championship under his belt, Agbayani and his teammates will represent Japan in the Konami Cup, an All-Asia tournament, which runs from November 10-13, at the Tokyo Dome. It is the first-ever club championship for Asian baseball. “I’d like the players to rest themselves and go on to win the Asian Series,” Valentine said. “Now we’re representing not just the Pacific League or Lotte, but all of Japanese baseball.” On November 10, the Marines will play the South Korean champion, Samsung Lions.

“ There’s a lot of pride at stake in this tournament,” said Agbayani. “We definitely want to win it.”
For more information on Benny Agbayani and the HPU Baseball program, contact HPU’s Sports Information Director, Jeff Harada, at 356-5278 or jharada@hpu.edu.
 

 

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