By Ferd Lewis
Was it really just three weeks ago that some fans were talking excitedly about a national ranking and already conjuring up a place in the NCAA Tournament for the University of Hawai'i baseball team this year?
Now, to hear some doomsayers in the stands and on the Internet tell it, the sky has fallen on the Rainbows, who can't get up. Woe are the 'Bows and all that.
The truth of the matter, as is often the case in these situations, probably falls somewhere in between.
At 14-12 going into tonight's Rainbow Easter Tournament and with 30 games remaining, it is apparent they aren't going to win the 38 games or so that would put them in the running for an NCAA regional. Nor are they going to go 0-for-the-rest-of-the-season to finish reminiscent of last year, either.
And, anybody who has been paying attention to the goings-on at Les Murakami Stadium over the last few years should have understood that going in.
So, let's all take a deep breath and realize this shapes up, at best, as a .500 team give or take a couple games.
You don't go from 16-40, the school's worst Division I record, to something approximating 40-16, which would be their best in more than a decade, in one fell swoop. You don't just repaint the walls, switch dugouts and declare the corner has been turned, much as it might be wished. This is a work in progress and that progress doesn't happen overnight. At least it doesn't in this program when you bring in 22 new players.
When UH hired coach Mike Trapasso, it gave him a three-year contract to get things going in the right direction. Since he was hired in June of 2001, late in the recruiting game, the first season was basically a freebie to do with as best he could. This year, with a running start, he is expected to demonstrate reasonable progress. Next year, will be the one that tells the tale.
In the meantime, there are reasons the Rainbows were picked by Baseball America to finish fifth in a six-team league and, since the UH-Hilo series, we've seen ample evidence of them. The Rainbows are young (five freshmen pitchers have played a significant role) and they are learning the lessons of winning the close ones. They are doing it without two pitchers expected to anchor their starting rotation: Justin Azze (ineligibility), who was voted the WAC's top pitching newcomer, and Colby Summer (tendinitis).
It is an indication of how hungry the populace is to return to the days of winning, title-competitive baseball that a remarkable 10-3 start brought such untethered optimism in the first place. And, it is a reflection of just how long the wait has been that the recent slide has prompted so much disappointment.