Hawaii Pacific University has named 2011 Mid-Pacific alumnus Dane Fujinaka as the new head coach of its baseball program.
Fujinaka, who was most recently the manager for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Dominican Summer League affiliate, takes over for former HPU baseball coach Dallas Correa, who departed the position to join the University of Hawaii baseball program in late July.
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Debbie Snell, who was announced as HPU’s new athletic director on May 14, officially began her post on July 1. Fujinaka is her first head coach hire.
“It’s been pretty surreal. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to come home and be able to coach college baseball in Hawaii so I’m super stoked and thankful that Dr. Snell, the new athletic director at HPU, and the entire athletic department gave me to opportunity to come back home and lead the HPU baseball program,” Fujinaka said. “It’s definitely sunk in. I’ve gotten to spend some time with some family and friends and got to meet the team and the coaching staff already. It’s always been a dream for me to come home.”
Fujinaka, who was a named a first-team All-State state selection at catcher during his senior year at MPI, played his first three collegiate baseball seasons for Sacramento State, where he hit .246 in 152 career games with a .990 fielding percentage behind the plate. He played his final collegiate season at Menlo College, where he started all 54 games for the Oaks in 2016 and hit .280 with four home runs and had a near-perfect fielding percentage of .995.
“There’s been so many people that have influenced me as a person and as a coach. The two people that really come to mind in my coaching career has been coach Dunn Muramaru who I played for at Mid-Pac in high school and the coaching staff there. I’ve kind of carried those values that I’ve learned in that program throughout my playing and coaching career,” Fujinaka says. “The second guy is Jake McKinley, who I played for at Sacramento State and Menlo and I also coached for him as well. I’ve kind of followed his career path and he’s really been my mentor so to speak and really helped me shape my coaching career.”
After his collegiate playing days were over, Fujinaka went straight into coaching. After a brief stint at Menlo, he was a volunteer assistant coach for Sacramento State in 2017 and the team’s catching coach in 2018.
From there, Fujinaka joined the coaching staff at Illinois State prior to the 2019 season, where he aided the Redbirds in signing Hawaii consensus state Player of the Year Micah Yonamine to a National Letter of Intent, although Yonamine ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after being picked in the 29th round of the MLB Draft.
In the summer of 2019, Fujinaka joined the MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays organization. He was the manager of the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays in 2021, who finished in second place in the Baseball City Division standings at 33-19.
Hawaii Pacific’s baseball team went 9-17 in 2021 and did not play anyone outside of Hawaii due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, the team expects to return a regular schedule and play outside of the Hawaii bubble.
“I think really it’s about creating a culture and a community where the individuals that are part of a team try to get better every day,” Fujinaka said of his goals. “I think with the support of the alumni and the support of the school, just making sure we have the right people part of a team that are trying to get better every day. I think the wins will take care of itself but it definitely starts with that attitude of making sure that we improve a little bit every day.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of excitement and a lot of anxiousness because (the team) really went without a head coach the entire summer and partially this fall, too. There’s definitely a lot of excitement and I’ve met a lot of the players and I’ve known the coaching staff, some of them who were already on the coaching staff and they did a tremendous job keeping those guys together and to actually be able to have a team this late in the fall, it’s a credit to the coaching staff that was there this past summer and was there for those guys and I’m just super excited to be a part of it. To be able to lead a good group of kids that some of them I’ve known from before and the ones that I’ve met have been really welcoming. I’m super excited to work with them.
“I’m just super excited for the opportunity and super grateful for the backers and the administration. It’s really a dream come true to be able to come back and coach baseball where I grew up.”