For any current and future Hawaii Pacific University baseball players, a quick glance of the No. 28 jersey banner hanging in right field at Hans L’Orange Park will remind them of what’s possible.
On Friday, the school held a ceremony to retire Benny Agbayani’s jersey during its annual alumni game, which was overseen by baseball head coach Dallas Correa. Agbayani played for HPU from 1990 to 1993 before a memorable MLB career with three different teams from 1998 to 2002.
“It feels really good and I appreciate the university and Dallas retiring my jersey. It’s a great honor,” Agbayani said. “It’s something you never expected. You just play the game because you love this game and I was very fortunate that they wanted to retire my number and it’s great.”
Agbayani played for Hawaii Pacific back when the program competed in the NAIA and had the Sea Warrior as its mascot. To this day, he is the only HPU baseball player to be named an All-American, an honor he earned during the 1993 season. He hit 10 home runs that year, which also stands as a program single-season record. His 83 career steals are a program record as well.
“My college days? That was the funnest days of my life,” Agbayani recalled with a wide smile. “Just playing with all my teammates. My first year I came here, we went to the NAIA World Series and we had great years when I played here at Hawaii Pacific University.”
He debuted for the New York Mets in 1998, becoming the first HPU alum to play in the MLB. He was the only alum with that distinction until Rico Garcia took the mound for the Colorado Rockies on Aug. 27, 2019. Agbayani had a total of 299 hits, 39 home runs, 156 RBIs and a batting average of .274 over the course of his MLB career.
Agbayani also played for the Rockies and Boston Red Sox. He then moved to Japan, playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball from 2004 to 2009 before retiring. Perhaps his most memorable run professionally was during the 2000 season with the Mets, when he hit a walk-off home run in Game 3 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants.
The Mets eventually reached the World Series but fell to the New York Yankees. Nonetheless, Agbayani is still known as a folk hero to Mets faithful.
“Now I feel like I’m so old now,” Agbayani joked recalling the Mets memories 20 years later. “I feel even older because some of the guys I played with was Derek Jeter and he’s in the Hall of Fame. New York was great. It’s always been great to me. It was one of the greatest places you can ever play as a ballplayer. You find out how good of a ballplayer you are when you play in New York.”
Nowadays, Agbayani is the head coach of the ‘Iolani softball team, where in the 2019 season the Raiders won the HHSAA Division I state title. Two of his daughters were on the team as well. Agbayani himself is a Saint Louis alum, and his son currently attends the school.
Although he did not play in the alumni game on Friday, he delivered the ceremonial first pitch. After that, his No. 28 jersey along the Hans L’Orange right field wall was unveiled. It will be present at every HPU home game from here on out.
“You gotta keep plugging away and just be at the right place at the right time,” Agbayani said when asked what advice he offered to the current Sharks. “I think that’s what it is and like I always tell everybody, you never know who’s watching. That one opportunity you get or if you get a lot of opportunities, take advantage of it.”