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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2006

A leap of faith in Lasorda

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

University of Hawai'i baseball coach Mike Trapasso claimed to have learned his lesson from the 2005 season several of them actually.

But one in particular stuck out: He was determined not to hang the noose of expectations around either himself or his team for this season. After the disappointment of a 28-27 (15-14 Western Athletic Conference) finish last year, there would be no more "this is the year" pronouncements about getting to the NCAA Regionals. No tournament-or-bust challenges to burden them.

Then, Trapasso invited Tommy Lasorda to speak at the Rainbows' Grand Slam Celebration last week, where Mr. Dodger Blue didn't stop at talk of a regional bid. The loquacious Lasorda challenged the 'Bows to get to the College World Series, recalling how a pep talk he'd given Notre Dame helped see the Irish to Omaha.

So much for easing into 2006 under the radar.

As they open with Saturday's Alumni Game and Wednesday's season opener against San Diego State, the 'Bows are not without significant expectations. Nor should they be.

With their returning talent and bus load of recruits this should be a year the 'Bows contend for the WAC championship. With year five of Trapasso's reign and 4 1/2 recruiting classes having come through, this should be the year the 'Bows end the school's 12-year absence from the NCAA Tournament. In short, this should be a season in which they demand as much of themselves as their fans will. If not all Lasorda put in front of them.

Indeed, yesterday's poll of WAC coaches had UH picked for a second-place conference tie. Baseball America, in its preseason listings, also has UH second.

And, it is not hard to see why. With Rice having moved on to torment Conference USA, after winning or sharing all eight titles in its WAC existence, the conference is up for grabs for the first time in a long time. Moreover, for the first time in six years there will be a conference tournament, providing a postseason avenue.

While Fresno State is the acknowledged favorite and even No. 21 in the Baseball America preseason Top 25, the 'Bows would seem to have a lot to look forward to. With six position players who started 25 or more games last season returning and five pitchers with significant innings back, there is plenty to build on from UH's highest WAC finish since 1992.

When Trapasso signed on in 2002, the announced blueprint was to get UH back to a regional in four to five years. Now, after three consecutive winning seasons, we await the leap.

Lasorda told the 'Bows that he speaks to perhaps a million people a year and he hoped UH made good on the challenge because he didn't want to have to tell them all the 'Bows had disappointed him.

Talk about expectations.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.