Catching and receiving


POSTED: Friday, April 03, 2009

There's no doubting the day Kolten Wong decided to turn down a contract offer from the Minnesota Twins was huge for Hawaii Rainbows baseball.




San Jose State (19-5) at Hawaii (16-9)

        When: 6:35 tonight

TV: KFVE, Ch. 5


Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM




It grabbed front-page headlines and instantly created big-time buzz surrounding the 2009 Rainbows season.

But as huge as landing Wong was, there was another summer day that proved to be just as important to Hawaii's success this season, if not more.

Catcher Landon Hernandez was expected to be selected in the MLB draft, and eventually was picked by the Detroit Tigers.

But he slipped all the way to the 50th round, and a chance to play pro ball never materialized.

It wasn't the way Hernandez hoped things would go, but it was a blessing for the 'Bows, who have reaped the benefits of having their senior catcher back for one more year.

“;There's no question if he weren't here we'd be missing him for sure,”; Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. “;The fact that we're pitching well and off to a pretty good start, there's no question he's had a pretty big impact on that.”;

Hernandez wasted no time returning to the islands to settle in for the 2009 season. He started working with a lot of the freshman and sophomore arms that have stepped up and performed well through the first 25 games this season.

Whether it's been the one-year jump in production from sophomore Sam Spangler or the poise shown by freshman guns Matt Sisto and Jesse Moore, Hernandez has played a key role in the development of all of Hawaii's hurlers.

“;You can talk about all the pitchers you want to, but Landon really deserves a lot of that credit for the way he handles the staff,”; Trapasso said.

Even a senior like Jayson Kramer, who has been batterymates with Hernandez for four years, has been boosted by his presence.

Kramer made the move from reliever to starter in the offseason, and admits having Hernandez behind the plate when he pitches has been a monster help.

“;With him, I feel like I'm throwing to a wall,”; Kramer said. “;Nothing is going to get by him. I'm comfortable throwing an 0-2 breaking ball in the dirt because I know he's going to block it.”;

Before the season started, Hernandez was quick to hype the talent of the 'Bows pitching staff, and nothing he's seen so far has been unexpected.

“;I'm not surprised,”; Hernandez said. “;As the catcher, it's more expected. They have done a great job and they keep throwing pitches for strikes and get people out.”;

Hernandez is quick to liken this team to his freshman season, when the 'Bows received an at-large berth to the regionals before losing to eventual national champion Oregon State.

Like this year, the 'Bows persevered through a tough preseason schedule in 2006. Eventually, they excelled in conference play, winning 17 of 23 league games.

The 'Bows are hoping for the same thing this time around, and Hernandez thinks he can bookend his UH career with trips to the regionals, and maybe more.

“;It's very similar and, honestly, we might be a little better,”; Hernandez said. “;We have good pitching. We're hitting at the right time. We're playing very well.”;

At this time last year, Hernandez was struggling with his swing, and he didn't get it turned around until WAC play started.

It was a slow first couple of weeks again this year, but Hernandez found his stroke much quicker. He's third on the team with a .280 average and is tied for second on the team with three home runs.

“;I know that I'm a better hitter then I was last year,”; Hernandez said. 'My big thing is consistency, and last year I wasn't too consistent.”;

No matter if Hernandez hits three home runs in a game or strikes out four times, his performance at the plate is just a small bit of everything he brings to the table. His durability behind the plate (133 starts at catcher), his defense and his personality are why he's the first guy to seek out when teammates are in need.

“;He's the guy with all the answers,”; Kramer said. “;When I need feedback on my pitching, he gives it to me straight up. When I need to know when morning practice or weights is, I call Landon. He's the lead by example type.

“;And he's such a good catcher.”;





        Senior, catcher, 6-1, 215, bats right, throws right, Cathedral City, Calif. (Desert Chapel H.S.)