Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, April 23, 1999

R A I N B O W _ B A S E B A L L


Nakano lives
dream with UH

The outfielder has fulfilled a goal
he set when he was 6 years old
and has become one of the
Rainbows' top hitters

Murakami to Hall of Fame

By Al Chase


Tracy Nakano has never lacked for a measuring stick since that day his father, Tom Nakano, put a little baseball bat in his hands.

"I remember when I was 6 he asked me, 'What's your goal?' I said I want to play for the Rainbows," Tracy said.

Tom Nakano showed his son a pole behind the backstop at the district park in Moanalua and said the Rainbows were at the top.

"He said I was at the bottom. Every year he would show me where I was on the pole. I never thought I would actually be here," Tracy said.

"My dad kept trying to help me do better. He always kept me humble. He coached me from the time I was 6 or 7 until I was 14.

"Every day he would take me to the park and drill me. I'd swing about a thousand times, do quick toss drills and try to increase my bat speed. I learned a lot from him. He was a great supporter, and this year he and my mom (Dale) are on every road trip."

Nakano was an outfielder until half way through his sophomore season at Moanalua High School, when he moved to first base. He initially planned to attend Santa Clara because of its business school and walk-on with the Bronco baseball team.

But the Hawaii coaches called during the summer following graduation and invited Nakano to walk-on at Manoa. He stayed home although 5-foot-8, 160-pound first basemen aren't in great demand at the Division I level.

Nakano found himself in the crowded Rainbow outfield pool and unable to crack the lineup as a position player.

"We just had too many good outfielders defensively," Hawaii head coach Les Murakami said.

Yet, there was a role for Nakano.

He had a knack for getting on base. He hit consistently well against right-handers and drew walks with regularity. He became a designated hitter and led the 'Bows in on-base percentage (.519) a year ago. He learned how to cope with the tedium that sometimes comes with the role.

"You've got to try and keep yourself up when you're the DH," Nakano said. "You cheer on everyone else, walk around the dugout to stay loose, go to the bullpen, take some swings."

It was the same this season until Scooter Martines hurt his left shoulder making a diving catch in left field against Fresno State.

Nakano took over in left field and Martines became the DH when he returned to action.

"I feel pretty comfortable out there. It feels good because you're always in the game," Nakano said. "It's easier to hit because you're not sitting on the bench waiting, getting all cold.

"If you have a bad at-bat, you have to go out and you have to focus on defense. I guess that totally clears my mind, because in my next at bat, I come up not even remembering my last at bat. As the DH, you always remember."

"Tracy worked hard in the summer and fall with the weights. He got stronger and gained confidence. When he got the chance, he's played well," Murakami said.

A senior who will graduate with a degree in accounting this summer, Nakano is putting up the best numbers of his career. He's hitting .316 overall, but leads the Rainbows in Western Athletic Conference play with a .361 average and is second with 21 RBIs.

He is third in on-base percentage (.479) overall, first (.557) in conference games.




Rice Owls

Bullet Coaches: Rice, Wayne Graham (8th season, 281-140). UH, Les Murakami (29th season, 1,042-536-4).

Bullet Season: Rice, 40-8 overall (18-3 WAC). UH, 28-14 (8-10).

Bullet Probable starting pitchers: Rice, right-hander Kenny Rough (8-2, 2.72, with seven consecutive wins), left-hander Mario Ramos (9-1, 2.33); right-hander Jeff Nichols (11-1, 4.83). UH, right-hander Rich Snider (4-4, 3.19); the rest of the rotation will be announced pending the outcomes of tonight's and tomorrow night's games.

Bullet Top players: Shortstop Damon Thames (.401, 79 hits, 47 RBIs, 11-for-11 in steals, American Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year in 1998); right fielder Will Ford (.391, 42 RBIs); left fielder Charles Williams (.348); catcher Zane Curry (.328); reliever Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl (4-1, 2.15 ERA, 5 saves, 79 K's in 54 innings).

Bullet Interesting facts: The Owls are No. 2 in the Baseball America Poll, No. 4 in the Collegiate Baseball poll. They are the second NCAA Division I team to reach 40 victories this season ... Rice has won eight consecutive games and 13 of its last 14 ... The Owls have won 21 consecutive WAC series and are 64-16 in league play (plus 8-0 in the tournament) in three WAC seasons ... The teams played for the first time last season with Rice winning all three games at Cameron Field ... The 'Bows hit .146 while the Owls hit .320 ... The Owls will play in a new campus stadium in 2000 with 3,427 grandstand seats and, with temporary bleachers, a total capacity of 5,600.

Bullet Series keys: Pitching, pitching, pitching ... The Owls have it. The Rainbows, well, after tonight's game, it's anybody's guess ... The candidates include Dusty Bergman, Matt Wheeler, Jamie Aloy and Corey Miller ... "I've had starters go out before, but never three at one time," UH head coach Les Murakami said. "Jamie is the closest to being back. Troy Yoshimasu is the furthest." ... "There's a reason they are 40-8. They've got pitching and they hit the ball," Murakami said. "We've got to hit decent and play defense." ... The Owls lost their starting second baseman, third baseman and two outfielders, including first-round draft pick Bubba Crosby, but Rice head coach Wayne Graham reloaded and the two-time defending WAC champions are stronger than ever.

Bullet First pitch: Today, 7:05 p.m.; tomorrow, 1:05 p.m.; Sunday, 12:35 p.m.

Bullet On the air: All three games live on KFVE TV (Channel 5) and KCCN radio (1420 AM).


			Conference		Overall
Team		W	L	Pct.	GB	W	L	Pct.
Rice 		18	3	.857	--	40	8	.833
Texas Christian	17	3	.850	1/2	26	17	.605
UNLV		10	8	.556	6-1/2	21	25	.457
San Diego St.	9	9	.500	7-1/2	22	23	.489
Hawaii		8	10	.444	8-1/2	28	14	.667
San Jose St.	8	10	.444	8-1/2	18	22	.451
New Mexico	9	12	.429	9	22	23	.489
Fresno St.	7	11	.389	9-1/2	25	25	.500
Utah		6	10	.375	9-1/2	18	19	.486
Brigham Young	7	13	.350	10-1/2	19	25	.432
Air Force	3	13	.188	12-1/2	17	25	.405
New Mexico & San Jose St. played one tie game.

Today's games
Rice at Hawaii, 7 p.m.
Air Force at New Mexico
Brigham Young at Oklahoma State
Fresno State at San Diego State
Texas Christian at Nevada-Las Vegas
Utah at San Jose State

Tomorrow's games
Rice at Hawaii, 1 p.m.
Air Force at New Mexico
Brigham Young vs. Western Illinois
Brigham Young at Oklahoma State
Utah at San Jose State
Fresno State at San Diego State
Texas Christian at Nevada-Las Vegas

Sunday's games
Rice at Hawaii, 12:30 p.m.
Air Force at New Mexico
Fresno State at San Diego State
Texas Christian at Nevada-Las Vegas
Utah at San Jose State

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