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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reviving Rainbow baseball

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

 •  UH bound for regional
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Twelve times the University of Hawai'i baseball team has been picked to play in the NCAA Tournament but few have carried more meaning than yesterday's selection.

For this was more than a ticket to the postseason for the Rainbows, it was a long-waited re-affirmation. Their entry into the 64-team field as an at-large selection, announced yesterday on ESPN, was the most tangible proof yet of the program's resurrection.

Twelve seasons without an NCAA postseason appearance the longest drought in the program's history ended with word the 'Bows will play 22nd-ranked Kansas (42-23), the Big 12 tournament champion, Friday in Corvallis, Ore.

After four consecutive winning seasons in which progress came almost incrementally, we might have believed the program had turned the corner on its lean years. But this was independent validation. This was college baseball's version of being awarded a Michelin star.

Perennials Louisiana State, Southern California and Florida didn't get them, but UH finally did.

As such, this wasn't just for the players and coaches who have carried UH to a 43-15 record this year and the fans who waited through the rebuilding, but also for the program's architect, Les Murakami, and the players who had built the Rainbow name.

"This was a big day for us and a big day for our program," coach Mike Trapasso said of the re-connection.

Not since 1977, when UH made its first regional appearance, could you say one selection has meant as much. Hawai'i was only three years into playing a full-fledged, all-college schedule at the time and it was a moment of arrival. One that held portent of a bright future.

Indeed, between 1977 and 1993, a span of 17 seasons, the 'Bows were postseason fixtures, going to 11 regionals and one College World Series final. Never were they left on the sideline for more than one season and, had there been a 64-team field instead of the 48 that existed until 1999, UH would have likely had four more appearances.

But the 1993 regional at Texas A&M was a swan song for a program that fell on hard times, lost its helmsman, Murakami, to a stroke and hit ocean bed-bottom with a 16-40 record in 2002.

So, yes, there was jubilation about the Rainbows being picked yesterday and, in the big picture, about what it could mean.

"Hawai'i has a rich history in baseball but our players, our freshmen, were about (5, 6) years old the last time (UH) had gone," Trapasso noted. "A lot of high school players in Hawai'i and on the Mainland aren't aware that Hawai'i has that kind of history. Today allows us to re-establish that in some recruits' minds and, maybe, open some eyes about all the great teams Coach Les had."

This was about a proud past finally linking up with a promising future.

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