Familiar face in opposing dugout
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
When Western Athletic Conference newcomer New Mexico State opens a three-game series with Hawai'i starting tonight, it will be a reunion for two coaches in opposite dugouts.
The Aggies' newest assistant, pitching coach Gary Ward, was Hawai'i coach Mike Trapasso's coach at Oklahoma State.
"It's going to be great to see Mike and his family," said Ward, whose son Rocky is the head coach of the Aggies. "I'm extremely proud of (Trapasso). His (players) do the right kind of things. I was so thrilled for him to get this opportunity. Now, I'd like to beat him three times this weekend, but that might not work out so good."
The younger Ward brought in his father last week to help stabilize a pitching staff that enters the series with a league-worst 8.06 earned run average. It was a pretty convenient pickup because his father was already working at NMSU as a consultant. It was a great acquisition when one considers that Gary Ward is one of the recent nominees as a coach for the new College Baseball Hall of Fame.
"It's going to be great to see him," Trapasso said. "It doesn't matter what capacity or what team, he'll make 'em better. You're looking at one of the all-time great coaches in college baseball history."
Gary Ward compiled a 1,022-361-1 career coaching record, the bulk while at OSU and from two seasons at NMSU.
Gary Ward, who has another son, Roger, coaching at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M JC, brought an OSU team here to the 1990 Easter Tournament, losing twice to UH. He is very familiar with the Rainbows program.
"I know Les (Murakami) from way back and the years he spent here," Gary Ward recalled. "I go back to (Hall of Fame nominee Derek) Tatsuno and (to when UH went to) the College World Series (in 1980). That was such a great moment in Hawai'i baseball."
For the Aggies (14-26 overall, 1-8 WAC), injuries have been an issue.
"We've actually played well early in the year, but in the last few weeks, we lost a third of our ball club to injuries," Rocky Ward said. "We lost our Saturday and Sunday starters. We lost (Luke) Hopkins, who should be back next week. We lost our starting right fielder. It's the most injured season I've ever had."
First baseman Hopkins is the WAC's leading hitter with a .431 batting average and RBI leader with 54. Since missing the last eight games, two other players have tied him for the home run lead with 12. The sophomore leads the nation with 1.69 RBIs and 1.25 walks per game. He did not make the trip for this series.
Since six of the seven teams advance to the WAC tournament, the Aggies are still within striking distance, three games behind sixth-place Nevada (5-6)
"We can't get back to full strength, but if we can get a couple of guys back, we'll be able to get better," Ward said. "Bottom line is we have to find a way to get qualified for this tournament from this position, we'll be a force to be reckoned with once we get there, if we can get it done."
It's not as if NMSU is lacking for hitters without Hopkins. The team averages 7.73 runs per game and is second in the WAC with a .303 batting average.
Shortstop Abe Aguirre is batting .363 and center fielder Vince Rodden is batting .340. Rodden leads the league with 44 runs and 29 steals.
The Aggies' only WAC win was against conference favorite Fresno State, the series in which Hopkins got injured (hamstring).
The Aggies are coming off winning 2 of 3 in a nonconference series against North Florida.
Meanwhile, the Rainbows (27-11, 5-5) are looking to keep playing well. After losing 2 of 3 at Fresno State, they won 2 of 2 at Nevada with the third game canceled by snow.
Hawai'i closer Darrell Fisherbaugh, who leads the team with seven saves, is one of 30 pitchers put on a midseason watch list for National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year, given to the top relief pitcher in college baseball.
The Rainbows will have a promotion for tomorrow's game called "Kids In Control." Children kindergarten to eighth grade will be allowed to do various duties during the game at the stadium.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.