DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
For seventh-year coach Mike Trapasso, top, and the Hawaii baseball team, the new playing surface was a welcome addition as the team went through its first spring practice yesterday.
Fielding a winner
The new Les Murakami Stadium turf impresses UH players
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Hawaii's 2008 baseball season got off to a glistening start yesterday at sunny Les Murakami Stadium.
The Rainbows held their first official practice of the season on the sparkling new Domo turf surface which is similar to the FieldTurf at Aloha Stadium.
"It plays a little slower than the AstroTurf that we had, but the bounces are pretty true and you don't really get any bad hops on it," senior second baseman Jonathan Hee said.
The only parts of the field with actual dirt are the areas around home plate and the pitchers mound.
The old AstroTurf surface was ripped apart during the fall, making way for the new artificial grass surface with a sand and rubber base.
"It's come out better than what we imagined," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "(The old turf) was like playing in a parking lot. This is a much softer, more forgiving surface."
Trapasso begins his seventh season at the helm of the Rainbows who were picked to finish fourth in the Western Athletic Conference in a poll voted on by the league's coaches.
The regular season gets under way with a three-game series at home against UH-Hilo Feb. 15-17.
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It's not unusual for the Hawaii baseball team to feature 14 or 15 new faces on the first day of spring practice.
What's different about this year's group is that a dozen of them are freshman.
"In the past we have had more junior college players," coach Mike Trapasso said. "We really focused on going with more high school kids, particularly on the mound."
Eight of the newcomers are pitchers and had their first official day of spring practice yesterday as Hawaii opened the 2008 campaign a little over three weeks away from the season opener against UH-Hilo on Feb. 15.
With so many young guys, Trapasso said they spent the fall scrimmaging more than the Rainbows normally would to help evaluate all the new faces.
Pitching was one of four primary concerns Trapasso had after finishing last year 34-25 and two games under .500 in Western Athletic Conference play.
The Rainbows will have to overcome the losses of lefthanders Ian Harrington and Mark Rodrigues, who each started 18 games a season ago. Reliever Tyler Davis, who led the team in saves, will also have to be replaced.
Senior Joshua Schneider and junior Matt Daly will anchor a rotation that will possibly have to depend on some of the young kids to step right in and make significant contributions.
"We expect a lot out of most of them," Trapasso said of his youngsters. "Normally you spend the better part of the spring just focusing on getting your pitchers into shape where they can get extended into their pitch count for the season."
Hawaii was picked to finish fourth in the WAC in a preseason poll voted on the coaches, but neither the players nor the coach seemed to care either way. A year ago, they were picked to finish first and wound up 11-13 in conference play.
"Last year being picked to finish first it kind of turned around on us," senior outfielder Brandon Haislet said.
Haislet, who along with Matt Daly was named to the preseason all-WAC team, headlines six returning position starters.
He was fourth on the team with a .335 batting average and second with 39 RBIs.
Along with second baseman Jonathan Hee, who hit .345 a season ago, they will be two guys looked upon to help carry an offense that lost first baseman Kris Sanchez and his 10 home runs and 66 RBIs.
The Rainbows also have to fill voids left by shortstop Eli Christensen and third baseman Justin Frash, who was selected in the 27th round of the MLB draft by Oakland.
With such a drastic turnover, it shouldn't be surprising to see a lot of different lineups and rotations as Trapasso uses the first "10 or 15 games" to evaluate his players.
"A lot remains to be seen," Trapasso said. "With so many new guys, you just don't know how they are going to perform until you start performing. You might have guys that when it's on the line and the numbers count they rise to the occasion. You might also have guys that have been lights out for the fall and then when the scoreboard turns on they give you the deer-in-the-headlights look."
Trapasso also had concerns involving the personality of his teams in recent years as well as getting stronger physically.
He said he's pleased with how the team has come along in both of those areas, leaving the team's toughness during the season as the final area he hopes to see improve.
"We'll have to wait and see how that goes," he said. "I like their work ethic and I like the toughness they have shown. It's a great chemistry group. They generally seem to like each other."
The first chance for fans to see the Rainbows in action on the new turf of Les Murakami Stadium is Feb. 9 when they play the alumni game at 1 p.m.