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Secret to Champion’s success? Hard work, eating right — duh!

By Dave Reardon

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:38 a.m. HST, Apr 08, 2011



Secrets to Garrett Champion’s success?

One is home cookin’.

What’s on the plate at dinner time helps Champion in his work behind it at gametime. The University of Hawaii junior catcher prepares his own healthy meals. That, and extra running, got him from 202 pounds last fall down to a solid 190 this spring on his 6-foot frame. It made a huge difference as the transfer from Brown University and Cuesta Community College (Calif.) went from bullpen backstop to starter.

“He’s the hardest working kid on the team,” coach Mike Trapasso said. “And that’s saying a lot because there are lots of hard workers.”

It's a simple diet as he describes it. Chicken, fish and lean beef. Fruit and vegetables, very little starches.

“I took it upon myself to get in shape,” said Champion on the eve of tonight’s WAC season-opening game against Sacramento State. “Eating better and a lot of running after practice, about 2 miles a day. It wasn’t that hard; I just realized I wasn’t at the level of conditioning I needed to be at for this level.”

The cardio — along with the eschewing of chewing junk food and carbs — built up his endurance to the point where catching all four games in four days of last week’s Wichita State series was no problem.

He’s caught the past nine games, and Trapasso said it’s possible Champion will work all four this weekend. That includes both ends of tomorrow’s doubleheader.

“It really depends on Jesse (Moore),” Trapasso said. “If he’s healthy enough to play short, we can put Pi’ikea (Kitamura) at catcher for a game. We don’t want to kill Champ.”

Champion said 18 innings behind the plate in one day wouldn’t be a problem. But Trapasso wants to keep him fresh, not just so he’ll perform at his best defensively, but also as a hitter.

He’s third among the Rainbows with a .308 batting average in 45 plate appearances. Since his first game, in which he went 3-for-4 with a double and a homer as UH beat Centenary 10-1, the Rainbows are 7-5. They are 14-14 going into tonight.

Trapasso said he didn’t expect productive hitting from Champion.

Actually, he didn’t expect anything this season.

“He was just a non-scholarship guy who transferred in and worked really hard. He changed his swing with the help of Rusty (McNamara, hitting coach). Now it’s a nice compact swing. He doesn’t over-swing, but he hits the ball hard.”

Catcher was a big question mark coming in. David Peterson, Kolten Wong and Kitamura were expected to share the duties. But Peterson got injured early on, and Wong and Kitamura are needed in the infield.

Although a newcomer, Champion enjoys a good rapport with the pitchers — a key to any catcher’s success.

“He’s such a hard worker,” said Matt Sisto, tonight’s starter. “Garrett busts his butt back there. And you always see him running a lot.”

Champion struggled in the fall with blocking pitches but has steadily improved.

“Lots of guys come in for extra work before and after practice, but that’s for hitting, the fun stuff,” Trapasso said. “He comes in and take balls off his body to get better.

“The guys root for him because of his work ethic and attitude. The first month he didn’t play because he wasn’t ready.”

Now that he’s gotten his chance, it’s going to be hard to get Garrett Champion out from behind the plate.

Even for the second game of a doubleheader.

———

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his “Quick Reads” blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.






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