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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Island Force

Brothers Dane and Duke Sardinha, Who Developed Their Skills in Hawaii, Have Flourished at Pepperdine

May 03, 2000|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — Most minds wander during the national anthem. Dane and Duke Sardinha have a clear destination for theirs.

Their thoughts drift beyond the left-field fence at Pepperdine and across the Pacific Ocean to Kahuku, Oahu, where their grandmother passed away in March.

As the Waves stand at attention, the Sardinha brothers say a silent prayer for the vocal fan and strong influence to whom their season is dedicated.

"She watched every game I played before I came to Pepperdine, and now she is watching every game from above," Dane said.

The Sardinhas, products of a family with solid baseball ties despite living on the surf-crazed North Shore, have flourished at Pepperdine.

Dane, a junior catcher and the school's career home run leader, is projected as an early first-round pick in the amateur draft next month.

Duke, a redshirt freshman third baseman, is a budding power hitter.

They realize leaving their island home was necessary for their development. But their hearts are heavy because Alma Sardinha, whose cowbell and megaphone were fixtures at Kamehameha High games, never saw them play at Pepperdine.

She died March 21 at the age of 66, a few days before the Waves visited Hawaii for a tournament. The timing stunned the Sardinhas, a large, close-knit family.

"It was a hard time," said Darneen Sardinha, Dane and Duke's mother. "Dane spent a lot of time by himself. We forced him to spend time with us. The funeral was the day before [Pepperdine] left the islands.

"They finally got to see her, which was good. I know they were heartbroken, but we were all relieved she was in a better place."

Both Sardinhas struggled in the tournament, but Dane homered soon after returning to the mainland. Wearing a T-shirt under his uniform that read "Pepperdine Hawaiian: Playing for Grandma," he pointed skyward upon touching home plate.

"We listened over the Internet, and when the announcer said he looked into the sky, it made us cry," Darneen said.

The home run was one of 44 Dane has hit as a Wave, the most recent a grand slam Tuesday in a 7-6 victory over UCLA. His power and defensive ability make him a coveted commodity in a draft rich in catchers.

"Dane has a great arm, his throws are very accurate," said a scout who attended Tuesday's game. "He's an excellent receiver and a good power hitter. Some scouts perceive him as lazy because of the way he goes about his business, but I think he's a total gamer."

Frank Sanchez, the Pepperdine coach, bristles at the suggestion Dane's mental makeup is less than ideal.

"Any scout who doesn't like him because of his makeup hasn't done his homework," Sanchez said. "Dane loves to play, he loves to compete, and the tighter the game gets, the better he is."

Sardinha is especially tough in West Coast Conference games, batting .394 with 12 home runs and 41 runs batted in for the Waves (30-19, 17-6 in the WCC), who lead the Western Division by five games.

Overall, Dane is batting .352 with 16 home runs and 66 RBIs. He prefers to let his bat do the talking.

"I'm real laid-back and I don't like talking to scouts," Dane said. "But I want to play baseball every day."

Duke isn't much different. He has eight home runs and 40 RBIs. Although batting only .260, his numbers are similar to those Dane put up as a freshman.

"I've been streaky; I need to become consistent," Duke said. "I've improved a lot here, especially on defense."

As much as Dane liked Pepperdine from the first day he set foot on the tranquil campus, Duke wasn't sure he wanted to follow his brother.

Mom and Dad made the decision for him.

"They wanted to watch both of us and this is easier for them to do so," Duke said. "It's worked out well. I'm glad I'm here."

Sanchez took the brothers aside soon after Duke arrived last season to redshirt and told them to appreciate the opportunity to play on the same team.

"My brother died at the age of 30," Sanchez told them. "We were so close people thought we were twins. But we went to different colleges. You two are very lucky to be able to share these experiences."

Dane might not be the last Sardinha to play baseball at Pepperdine. Bronson, nicknamed "Bully," is a Kamehameha High infielder scouts believe might become the best player in the family.

"Bully is leaning toward Pepperdine," Darneen said.

That would complete the work of the boys' father, Dexter, who launched a youth league in Kahuku when his oldest son, Brandon, began playing.

Dexter is a former catcher at St. Louis High in Honolulu. His father was a ballplayer, as were Darneen's father and brother. Darneen's father, Lester Akeo, 66, still plays catcher on a team of seniors.

"My dad, my uncle and my grandpas always pushed us to work out and be serious," Dane said.

The work should pay off in a signing bonus of more than $1 million. Dane was drafted in the second round by the Kansas City Royals out of high school. Dexter recommended he sign, but Dane chose Pepperdine.

"My husband went surfing to relieve the stress," Darneen said.

Delaying a pro career turned out to be the right call. Dane's value has increased. So has his maturity.

"Every aspect of his game has improved every year he's been here," Sanchez said. "And he's grown up as well."

Grandma knew that without ever seeing a game.

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