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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Changing of guard for UH baseball

 •  UH tops Florida State, 3-2, in baseball season opener
 •  House that Les built is now official

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Les Murakami gazed high up into the stands of the stadium being rechristened in his honor and, speaking into the microphone before him, humbly expressed his appreciation.

Then, he paused and said, "I ask you for your support of coach (Mike) Trapasso."

On a night deep in meaning and often dripping with poignancy, the symbolism of this gesture was unmistakable.

With those well-chosen words and behind the considerable emotion of the moment, a historic baton was passed and significant step was taken even before the Rainbows' 3-2 victory over No. 2-ranked Florida State.

The man who had built Rainbow baseball had tendered in public, to the 2,815 on hand and a statewide television and radio audience, the blessing he had a while ago conferred in the privacy of his Wai'alae Nui living room.

The coach who had taken on Rainbow baseball as a "temporary" job in 1971 and then taken it from a twinkle in his eye to the doorstep of a national championship was turning over the program, lock, stock and jock, to his successor.

The man who had literally overseen the program's rise from the dirt the tires of his wheelchair now rested upon to the UH athletic department's most decorated men's sport, was handing it over to his young successor to expand the horizons as he can.

Together on the field side by side for the first time, they worked in tandem to help untie the lei that signified the dedication of the stadium in Murakami's honor. It also symbolized their shared interest in a program that enters a new era and the support that Trapasso takes with him.

At UH, where the changing of the guard has sometimes been noteworthy for the clumsiness with which it has taken place — witness the way basketball coach Red Rocha was terminated at the team's awards banquet in 1973 or how football coach Bob Wagner was fired in 1995 — this was one to remember for all the right reasons.

"It touched and affected me," said Florida State coach Mike Martin, who watched from the distance of the first base dugout.

Indeed, with bands, flags and speeches, the evening paid well-earned tribute to Murakami, for whom a "Les Murakami Stadium" sign atop the new message board now sits as a reminder of his 31 years of daily toil and enduring vision.

After six Western Athletic Conference titles and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, the guard has been changed and the frontiers expanded. Not that Murakami's imprint will ever disappear. Nor is his legacy in danger of fading. The turnout last night of long-time fans and lengthy receiving line of former players was moving testament to that.

It is just that there are new hands at the controls and a new face on the program. Trapasso, wearing jersey No. 35, now stands in the same third base coaching box where Murakami, etched into our minds as No. 11, once called the shots. He does not stand alone.

For the mission, as Murakami would tell him, remains the same: Get back to Omaha.