Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Fortunate son

By Billy Hull


Of the 15 games Zack Swasey has played, in only one was he held without a hit.

Considering what else happened that day, losing a hit streak was the least of his worries.

The Rainbows outfielder found out quickly following last Thursday's 5-1 loss to Portland that a devastating 9.0 earthquake had struck Japan, where he was born.

Swasey's parents live in his native Tottori, which is roughly 400 miles southwest of Sendai, one of the areas battered by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.


Four-game series

» Who: Centenary (3-6) at Hawaii (7-9)

» Where: Les Murakami Stadium

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

» TV: KFVE, Ch. 5 (Tomorrow and Sunday only)

» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

"They actually didn't feel a thing," Swasey said. "I made sure I called them and talked to them and they were OK. They answered the phone when I called."

His 11-game hit streak ended that day, but that was the furthest from his mind.

He started a new streak the next game.

Swasey has made an already deep outfield more crowded, hitting .323 with five doubles and nine RBIs.

A transfer from Salt Lake Community College in Utah, Swasey is the third UH player from that school in the last five years, following Josh Chevalier and Eli Christensen.

"They've been good to us, all of them," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "(Swasey) came on late and was recruited by some schools over the summer, but we were fortunate after the draft to have some scholarships available and were able to get him."

Baseball is the only sport Swasey has ever known. He thinks he started at age 10 because his mom played softball when she was younger.

When he was 15, he moved to Utah, following his sister, who moved to the United States a little earlier.

"A lot of reasons," Swasey said when asked why he moved. "To learn English, and also in Japan, you have to pay money to go to high school, but in the states, it's free."

The language barrier made it difficult for Swasey to make friends at his new school. Without baseball, his life might have been a lot different.

"It was a lonely year," Swasey said. "I made a lot of friends through baseball because pretty much my only friends were my teammates."

After high school, Swasey played one year at Salt Lake before taking a two-year LDS mission to South Africa.

Instead of baseball, Swasey had to take up a new sport for the first time.

"They didn't have baseball there; they had cricket," Swasey said. "I tried (to play) a little bit; it's different. You can't just smack the ball hard; you have to aim it somewhere on the ground so they don't catch it."

Swasey returned after his mission to play a second year at the same community college before he was recruited by Hawaii. Utah and Dixie State also expressed interest in Swasey, but a chance to come to Hawaii was too much to pass up.

"It's nice in Hawaii because I get a little bit of Japan and the United States mixed together," Swasey said. "Plus it's good food. I love Japanese food."

He also seems to enjoy Division I pitching. He swung the bat well enough in the offseason to earn a start in the season opener against Oregon. Except for the one outing against Portland, he's recorded a hit in every game.

He's the only Rainbow with a three-hit and three-RBI game and is tied for the team lead with six extra-base hits.

"He's very unassuming, but it bothers him when he doesn't do well," Trapasso said. "Just because he doesn't say much doesn't mean he's weak. He's a strong-willed hard worker and he's really been fun to watch."

He's also flashed the leather in the outfield, making multiple highlight-reel catches, including a diving grab down the right-field line on Sunday against Portland.

He says he can play any position except the one Hawaii might need the most.

"I've been everywhere," he said. "Started in the infield, went to the outfield, then infield, back to outfield ...

"Everywhere but catcher."

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