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Sequim says goodbye to 'Big Herm'

Just for a moment, when you look at these fields, strip the clutter away. Take down the fences, demolish the dugouts and scoreboard, kick dirt to cover the baselines, toss away the bases.

Now picture a long row of youngsters with gloves, eyes squinting beneath their caps. A few feet away are a few men looking them over, mulling which ones can hit, which ones can pitch, who can show some fundamentals.

This is the early 1970s in Sequim, and this is sandlot baseball.

See one tall, dark man jawing it over with the other men, now talking with young players, now taking down names and setting up a practice or two.

For California transplant Herman Murillo, this was hardly the kind of youth baseball league he expected from his new hometown, but it was a start.

More than 30 years later, two of his sons walk by those same fields. Instead of dirt and patches of grass, a lush green carpet and well-drawn dirt infield cover this place.

"They've got it nice here," said Herman Murillo Jr., looking across the sports complex. Brother Danny-Rey agrees.

"All of this was big, open fields," the younger Herman said.

The pair sit on some nearby bleachers and try to put into words exactly what kind of impact their dad had on the community.

Just a few days following their father's death, the boys-turned-men have no tears, just warm remembrances.

"He was a hard coach," his son Herman said. "He expected a lot from kids. But they gave a lot."



A new coach in town

Herman Murillo was born May 28, 1939, in Reseda, Calif., the oldest boy of 11 siblings. He worked in the San Fernando Valley as a bridge builder and cement finisher. He served three years in the United States Army.

He married; he and wife Roberta had four children: sons Anthony, Herman Jr. and Danny-Rey, and daughter Cathy (now Cathy Bourm).

In 1972, Murillo and family became enamored with the Olympic Peninsula during a visit with family. A year later, they moved to Sequim.

"He absolutely loved it here," the younger Herman said. "He knew he could raise his family in a safe community and that's all it took."

Murillo kept working as a cement finisher and took on a job as a greenskeeper at Dungeness Golf Course, now known as The Cedars at Dungeness. He was at Dungeness for more than 15 years, many as superintendent of grounds.

Murillo was a fastpitch

softball pitcher until the late 1970s, when, as his son Herman said, "we overtook his life."

Soon after settling in, Murillo began volunteering to help coach, and not just baseball. The man got his fingers into youth baseball (Little League and Babe Ruth), softball, basketball and football leagues, and later on with golf teams, too.

In the late 1970s, Murillo helped spearhead a movement to put youth baseball fields on city land near Silberhorn Road.

Workers broke ground and built the fields near Silberhorn in the early 1980s.

It would be difficult to quantify how many youths came through the Sequim Little League baseball system, but friends estimate Murillo coached 800 youths in his 30-plus years with the league.

To Murillo, youths had a better chance to stay out of trouble by throwing and hitting and catching a ball.

"He had a strong belief that kids out doing organized sports wouldn't be out getting into trouble," the younger Herman said.



Nicknames for

his favorites

When his own sons were out of youth sports, Murillo continued to coach. He stuck around long enough to be an assistant coach on his granddaughter Tia's softball team.

Head coach Dave Bentz worked with Murillo for several years.

"He's a legend here," Bentz said. He demanded respect and, at the same time, you wanted to give it to him.

Bentz pauses to talk with his daughters. One is nicknamed Cheeto; the other, Dash. The nickname source? Herman Murillo.

Ah, the nicknames. Trying to find someone here who doesn't mention Murillo's habit of nicknaming his players is harder than hitting a good curveball.

"If you were fortunate enough to get a nickname, you were an all-star," the younger Herman said. "It was kind of like a badge of honor."

Murillo was sick in recent years. Bentz said he wasn't able to make it to some of the Sequim's softball major all-stars' final games and that may have hurt as much as any sickness. But it impressed Bentz that the man was yearning to be with the team.

"Those last couple of years he was ... teaching the game of life," Bentz said.

Murillo died on Aug. 27. He was 70 years old.

Last weekend, a gathering of those with Murillo-inspired nicknames and a lot more who probably wish they had one came together to say goodbye.



'The home that

Herman built'

On Saturday, Sept. 5, weeks after Little League seasons had finished, sunlight broke through white, rolling clouds above Herman Murillo Field. It was perfect weather for a baseball game or two.

More than 300 friends and members of Murillo's various youth sports or golf families paid tribute to the man.

Speakers ranged from family members to co-workers to former players.

"I was one of his first (players)," said Derrin Doty, a local baseball star who was drafted by the California Angels in 1993 and played for five minor league teams.

"He was a guy I was scared to death of. He wanted me to move up out of T-ball. He was my life coach."

Murillo's son Anthony called the surrounding fields the home that Herman built.

"Someone has done something to give back ... with no expectation in return," Anthony said.

The field was not named posthumously; Murillo got to see that part of his legacy come to fruition.

But walk over here, just a few steps from Herman Murillo Field. There's a plot of land all torn up and torn up good. Rocks litter the infield. Volunteers are picking at the lot to make the infield smooth for a brand new softball field.

Little League president Shawnna Rigg urged people to help clear a few rocks on their way home from the service.

After all, she said, that's what Herman would want.

"His whole things was, 'I better leave this better than I got it,'" his son Herman said.

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.



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