POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 23, 2011
Joining the Big West Conference was supposed to eventually open some recruiting doors for the University of Hawaii baseball team.
Like the one in Del Mar, Calif., apparently, where a promising catcher lives. And another in West Covina, Calif., perhaps, where, we’re told, a blue-chip outfielder resides.
It is 373 days until UH officially becomes a member of the Big West, but early returns suggest the move is already paying off.
Less than six months after UH’s move to the Big West for the 2012-13 school year was announced, Rainbows head coach Mike Trapasso said, “I’m excited about it already. I can tell you what I know: Some of the California kids we’re getting commitments from are blue-chip guys, I mean real blue-chip guys that, if we were still going to be in the Western Athletic Conference, I don’t think we would have had a shot at.”
Under NCAA rules, Trapasso is prohibited from discussing individual recruits until they sign in November. But some baseball websites, including perfectgame.org and eteamz.com, list catcher Niklas Stephenson of Del Mar, Calif., and Carlos Martinez of West Covina, Calif., as having committed to the ’Bows.
Both have recently appeared in major national showcase tournaments and would join UH in the fall of 2012, meaning they would be freshmen on the first ’Bows team to play baseball in the Big West.
The Big West, which is currently composed solely of California schools, has long been regarded as a stronger baseball conference than the WAC. Major league teams selected 37 players from Big West members in this month’s draft, generally considered a down year for the conference. In 2010, 49 Big West players were drafted. The WAC had 25 selections this year.
And California is a hotbed of talent with 88 of the 495 high school players drafted this year by MLB having come from the state, the vast majority from southern California.
The ’Bows have traditionally done well in recruiting California, but Trapasso said he believes the impending Big West membership has allowed UH to get its foot in the door on a higher level of talent and provided it with more to sell when it gets in the front room.
“Kids (from southern California) have always been interested and we often get right down to the wire with a lot of them,” Trapasso said.
“But, at the end of the day,” Trapasso said, “some of the real blue-chip kids will say, ‘I can stay closer to home and play in a great league where, if I go to Hawaii and enjoy all the things Hawaii has to offer, I’m still playing in a league that isn’t as strong.’ ”
Now, UH coaches tell California recruits they can have the best of all worlds by playing for the Rainbows. They can attend UH, play in a strong conference and go home and play in front of family and friends several times a season.
One of the eye-opening aspects of Big West membership, Trapasso said, is that some top-drawer prospects have begun contacting UH. “I think it is a combination of the good years we’ve had the last couple of seasons and, definitely, the move to the Big West.”
Before UH has sent its first membership check to league headquarters, it appears the ’Bows are already realizing some of the dividends.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.