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Locally: Former Gonzaga, Spokane Indians infielder Lenn Sakata reemerges with Low-A baseball title

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 25, 2021

Infielder Lenn Sakata starred at Gonzaga before moving on to the Spokane Indians.  (Cowles Publishing)
Infielder Lenn Sakata starred at Gonzaga before moving on to the Spokane Indians. (Cowles Publishing)
From staff and news services

Six years after Lenn Sakata retired and two years after his jersey was retired, the former Gonzaga University and Spokane Indians infielder was back where you’d expect to find him – on a baseball field with a championship trophy in his hands.

The winningest manager in San Jose Giants franchise history came out of retirement this summer and won his fourth title in the eight seasons he managed the team off-and-on between 1999 and 2021, sweeping the Fresno Grizzlies for the 2021 pennant in the best-of-five Low-A West Championship Series.

The 67-year-old Hawaii native played two years at Gonzaga (1973 and ’74) and all or parts of the 1976, ’77 and ’78 Pacific Coast League seasons in Spokane, then the Triple-A farm team of the Milwaukee Brewers, who picked him 10th in the first round of the secondary phase of the 1975 MLB draft.

The sure-handed infielder, who played most of the time at second base, appeared in 565 games in all or parts of 11 seasons in the major leagues, earning a World Series ring with the 1983 Baltimore Orioles.

After his playing days, Sakata turned to coaching and managing in the minor leagues – he’s highly regarded as an instructor – finding his most success in the California League, the predecessor to the Low A West.

He became the winningest manager in California League history in 2007 when he reached 527 wins. When he retired after the 2014 season, he had 757 in 11 years.

San Jose retired his No. 14 jersey in 2018 when he was inducted into the California League Hall of Fame. He was earlier inducted into the Gonzaga Athletic Hall of Fame (1988) and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame (2001). In 2009, CNN Sports Illustrated named him one of the 50 greatest sports figures in Hawaii history.

So why would a man with those accolades want to climb back onto a bus in the minor leagues?

“I did this because of my relationship and friendship with Kyle Haines,” the parent San Francisco Giants’ player development coordinator, Sakata told the Hawaii Herald. “He’s an ex-player of mine. … I came back to see what baseball was about now in modern times and just to help him out.”

It appears little, at least for Sakata, has changed.

College scene

Gonzaga, one of only three men’s teams with two runners in the top 15 Oct. 15 at one of the country’s premier cross country meets, the Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison, Wisconsin, has climbed to a program-best No. 13 national ranking.

With Wil Smith (11th) and James Mwaura (14th) leading the way, No. 19 Gonzaga overcame the absence of one of its top runners, Yacine Guermali, who was sidelined by an injury, to finish seventh, beating 10 ranked schools and climbing six spots in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division I national cross country poll.

GU is third in the West Region, ahead of No. 5 Washington (which is 26th nationally); Washington State, down four spots to 11th; and Idaho, which remained No. 15.

In the women’s rankings, Gonzaga climbed three spots to fifth in the West after finishing 21st at the Nuttycombe, WSU is 13th and Idaho joined the rankings at No. 15. UW remained No. 1.

• Washington State junior middle Magda Jehlarova earned her second Pac-12 volleyball Defensive Player of the Week award in three weeks on Oct. 18 after leading the Cougars through the second half of two perfect road trips, sweeping Oregon State and Oregon.

Jehlarova had a combined 15 blocks, including having her hand in 9 of 10 Cougars blocks against No. 13 Oregon, her second-best blocking performance of the season and the best in a three-set match in her career. WSU held both Oregon schools to sub-.200 hitting (OSU was .081) and posted its first win at Oregon since 2003.

• Whitworth senior Madison Lee received her second Northwest Conference volleyball offensive player of the week award in three weeks when she was honored on Oct. 15 for leading the Pirates to a pair of road victories. The outside hitter from Mead had 34 kills, 31 digs and three service aces, averaging 4.25 kills per set and hit .294 over the two matches.

• Area athletes collected Frontier Conference volleyball and men’s basketball player of the week awards on Oct. 18 for their performances the prior week.

Sydney Parks, a 6-foot-3 Montana Tech senior MB/OH from Post Falls, had three solo blocks and 14 assisted blocks as the No. 17 Orediggers went 2-2 in a tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, that had two other ranked teams and one receiving votes.

Shamrock Campbell, Carroll College’s senior guard from Ferris, opened the basketball season with 27 points (9 of 13 from the field; 5 of 9 on 3-pointers; 4 of 4 on free throws), two rebounds, five assists and two steals in a 117-40 win over Yellowstone College.

Claire Dingus, Saint Martin’s 6-foot junior forward from University HS, a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America honorable mention after the abbreviated 2020-21 season, was a unanimous selection on the Great Northwest Athletic Conference 2021-22 preseason all-conference team.

• Idaho, which returns leading scorer Beyonce Bea (16.2 ppg), who led the Vandals to a 14-3 record and second place in the Big Sky during the abbreviated 2020-21 season, has been selected to finish third in both the coaches’ and media preseason women’s basketball polls.

Rebuilding Eastern Washington was picked last in the coaches’ poll and 10th in the media poll. Defending champion Idaho State was selected first in both polls.

• For a second-consecutive week, Idaho senior Vicky Tsai was named Big Sky Women’s Golfer of the Week on Oct. 20 after being the conference’s top performer at the Colonel Wollenberg Ptarmigan Ram Classic, tying for 12th with a 6-over-par 222 (72,74, 76).

It was the third career weekly honor for Tsai, who has led the Vandals in three consecutive tournaments, averaging 74.33 strokes per round.

Easton Pomrankey, a Western Oregon freshman from Kettle Falls, was the Great Northwest Athletic Conference men’s cross country runner of the week for the week of Oct. 11-17. He clocked 27 minutes, 12.5 seconds for 8K.

Shooting

Morgan Christian, Megan Max and Cole Featherstone from the Spokane Junior Rifle Team finished ninth, 10th and 11th, respectively, overall, and fourth, fifth and sixth in the Marksmen class at the Washington State 2021 Outdoor Conventional Prone Championship last month.

Christian, 14, University HS, shot 2,997 out of 3,200; Mix, 16, Medical Lake, 2,912; and Featherstone, 16, Ferris, 2,888.

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