For 'Bows, it was fun and games
Your first indication this might be a different University of Hawai'i baseball team came early on to be sure, but on the players' chins before the field.
The outbreak of goatees and such after a steadfast four-year facial hair ban was much more than just a grooming statement. It was also the first visible indication of what would be coach Mike Trapasso's most relaxed handling of the reins in five seasons in Manoa.
It set an even tone that has helped see the nationally ranked Rainbows thrive in a 40-13 season and their coach rewarded yesterday by being named the Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
The vote by Trapasso's peers was testament to a job well done as the Rainbows open the postseason this morning at 8 against Louisiana Tech in the first round of the WAC Tournament in Fresno, Calif.
Trapasso has won coach-of-the-year honors twice in three seasons, certification of the turnaround in fortunes for a program that went 16-40 in his first year (2002) and hadn't won 40 games for anybody since 1993.
"He just made it a fun environment to play in," said Steven Wright, the 'Bows' WAC Pitcher of the Year. "We were not too intense, not too relaxed and he just let us play."
Trapasso's ability to read his team's personality and then step back and give it room to perform is something we might not have always seen earlier. It is one of the surest signs that the former Georgia Tech assistant has grown into his first head coaching job.
Baseball America rated Trapasso the top head coaching prospect among assistants in 2001, the year UH went looking to rebuild its sagging fortunes. But as Trapasso acknowledges, "no matter what I thought — or any coach thinks — you go through a growing stage because there's a big difference between being a head coach and an assistant."
We saw it in Trapasso, too. When his early UH teams had a disappointing game, he seemed to tighten. And, at times, the perception was that his teams followed suit.
But not this year. At no point in this season of remarkable consistency have the Rainbows lost more than two games in a row. They might have an off night or experience a spell of bad luck but nothing they would allow to fall into a deep rut.
"You could see in fall practice this was a different club (from last season); our personnel, our character, our chemistry," Trapasso said. "Regardless of how we were going to play, I felt this was going to be a much more fun bunch to be with."
His good sense, apart from the on-the-field moves, was in perpetuating that environment and letting the team play to its potential.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.