Hawaii catcher Erik Ammon is second among the team's regulars with a .455 on-base percentage.

Freshman finds his
way into lineup

Erik Ammon's parents, Bob and Jane, always told him to shoot for the highest possible standard.

That made his college decision easy after an honor-filled career at North Salem (Ore.) High School.

Rice at Hawaii

When: Today and tomorrow, 6:35 p.m., Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

Where: Les Murakami Stadium

TV: Sunday's game live, KFVE, Ch. 5

Radio: All three games live, KKEA, 1420-AM

Tickets: $7 orange and blue sections; $6 red section; $5 seniors, and $3 students age 4-18, UH students in the red section.

Parking: $3

Notes: The Owls hold a 28-8 advantage in the series. ... The teams split the six WAC games last year. ... In WAC games, UH second baseman Isaac Omura is tops in hits (19), runs batted in (13) and total bases (36). He is third with a .422 batting average. ... Rice leads the conference with a .304 batting average.

"I've always had that aspiration of playing at the highest level. These (the UH coaches) were the guys who were most interested in me," said Ammon.

A catcher his three varsity seasons in high school, he was first-team Valley League for three years, an honorable mention all-state pick as a sophomore and a first-team selection his junior and senior seasons.

He also played football at North Salem -- "all over" as he put it -- seeing time at fullback, free safety, quarterback, cornerback and wide receiver.

UH coach Mike Trapasso's plan at the start of the season was to play Ammon about 25 percent of the time and junior college transfer Esteban Lopez the rest of the games. When Esteban struggled offensively early and Ammon recovered from a strained shoulder, the freshman suddenly was playing a lot.

Ammon was 0-for-2 before the First Title Rainbow Tournament, but started four of the five tourney games and went 6-for-13 and made the all-tournament team.

His average has fluctuated since, dropping to .259, going back up to .310 and resting at .276 entering the weekend series against Rice. Fortunately for the 'Bows, his latest dip coincides with Lopez finding his stroke at the plate.

"I have my slumps. I was seeing a lot of pitches to hit because the guys around me in the lineup were hitting so well," said Ammon. "They hadn't seen me and didn't want to pitch to those guys. Any time you get a good streak going, you feel like you are on top of the world. The key when you are not there is to figure out how to get back.

"Even when you get hits, you may not be getting the swings you want, but you have luck and the ball goes through."

His biggest adjustment was to the pace of the college game.

"Everything is boom, boom, boom. Otherwise, it is still the same. You have to catch the ball and hit the ball," Ammon said. "I've had to learn to be more selective at the plate. The pitchers are sharper. You have to wait for your pitch."

Despite playing just 20 games, Ammon is third on the team with 16 walks and has an on-base percentage of .455, second-best among the regulars.

"Erik is a good receiver, has good hands and an average arm for Division I. I think he will be a tremendous catcher before he leaves," said Trapasso.

"You spend 5 minutes with Erik and the thing that sticks out with him is he is a quality person, so respectful. Then you watch him play and you know why he is such a good player. It makes you feel good when you see guys like him and (freshman) Joe Spiers do so well."

His parents listen to every game on the Internet, have made both road trips and will be in San Jose, Calif., next week.

"I told them I wanted to be where it was nice and sunny and I could be outside," said Ammon. "I love this. What else could I ask for but to be in Hawaii and play baseball every day. It's a joy to come to the park."

The recent team struggles have not dampened Ammon's outlook.

"The key is we are playing hard. We've had enough bad breaks go against us to last five years. We just have to keep our heads up," he said. "The focus is to start winning and get into the playoffs.

"My high school coach, Chris Lee, is a philosophy teacher. He always told us it is never as good as it seems, nor is it as bad as it seems. Just try to stay in the middle area. That is how I try to approach things."

Ammon does have one superstition when he has a bad batting practice.

"I go wash my hands, really lather up. Then I'm clean, ready to go out and put some good swings on the ball." he said.

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