Vinnie reinvigorated


POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vinnie Catricala took a break from baseball last summer.




Loyala Marymount (8-7) at Hawaii (6-6)

        6:35 p.m. today

KKEA, 1420-AM




But it wasn't exactly a vacation.

While most of his Hawaii teammates scattered to various summer leagues, Catricala stayed away from the diamond for the most part. Instead, spending those days splitting time between the batting cage and the weight room.

“;I stayed here and lifted and worked on my swing and tried to really understand the finer points of it,”; Catricala said.

“;I've been playing baseball year-round since I was 12, on travel teams, high school, fall-ball teams. I talked to a lot of guys that I know, coaches, and they (said) 'a break would be good for you, sit back, relax and work on some things.' “;

The time off appears to have paid off for Catricala.

Catricala returned for his junior season refreshed by the break and has been the Rainbows' top hitter through the first 12 games. The UH third baseman enters this weekend's series with Loyola Marymount hitting .364, best among UH regulars, with 13 RBIs and delivered the pivotal blow in Hawaii's series win over nationally ranked Mississippi State last week.

His game-winning three-run homer with two out in the ninth inning last Friday lifted Hawaii to a 7-4 win, and the Rainbows pounded out 10-5 and 11-5 wins over the Bulldogs the next two afternoons for their first series win of the season.

“;Hopefully we can look back six weeks from now or eight weeks from now and point to that as a spark that really got us on a roll,”; Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. “;That remains to be seen, but it definitely picked us up and got the momentum on our side for Saturday and Sunday's games, there's no doubt.”;

Judging by his first two seasons with the Rainbows, Catricala's swing didn't seem in need of much repair. He hit .307 as a freshman, making 33 starts as a designated hitter in 2007, and was named to the All-WAC second team and earned freshman All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball. He moved into the lineup at third base last year and hit .280 while driving in 39 runs.

After the Rainbows were eliminated from the WAC tournament in Ruston, La., last May, Catricala didn't suit up for a game (aside from the alumni game last fall) until UH's season opener against UC Irvine on Feb. 20.

In between, he worked with strength coaches Tommy Heffernan and Steve Englehart to add muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame most mornings over the summer. He'd then head over to the batting cages to take his cuts with assistant coach Keith Komeiji.

The benefits of his offseason regimen have been reflected both in his numbers so far and in less tangible areas.

“;I think I got mentally stronger,”; Catricala said, “;just going at-bat to at-bat, letting things go and not taking it out to the field.”;

While Catricala's production helped power a UH offense that struggled with consistency early in the season, his approach has given him more responsibility in the dugout as well.

“;He's developed into our leader, particularly on the offensive end,”; Trapasso said. “;He's not your vocal type of leader, but you won't find anyone on our club who works harder, that puts more time in the cage and the weight room and just goes about his business the way you're supposed to. When you do those things and then you put up numbers on the field, it propels you into a leadership position.”;

Perhaps the most significant threat to Catricala's hot start came last Sunday when his bat split in two just above the handle as he fouled off an inside pitch.

“;It was fastball middle in, two-seamer. It looked good about halfway so I decided to swing and (the pitch) broke into my hands,”; Catricala said. “;I've never done that before. It looked like it got sawed in half. I was in shock that happened.”;

Catricala borrowed a teammate's bat the rest of the game, and is now working on getting a new Easton into game shape.

“;They gave me a new bat, but I kind don't like using new bats right way,”; he said. “;I like breaking them in, changing the grip, putting some pine tar on it. I've got to talk to my new bat and work it in a little bit.”;