The University of Hawaii baseball team came a long way this year and so, too, did its coach, Mike Trapasso.
And that’s probably not a coincidence.
The Rainbows won their first Western Athletic Conference title in 18 years and returned to the NCAA tournament after a three-year absence. All the while, their coach was on his own voyage of rediscovering part of what brought him here in the first place.
The not only appreciative but almost ebullient Trapasso that we have glimpsed and heard in recent weeks seems much more like the one that landed here in 2002 in temperament and spirit than the often dour, frequently firecracker-taut version of recent years.
To be sure, winning soothes the soul and there is little like the public promise of a new multi-year contract from the boss to lift your spirits. Especially when you’ve been down to the final year, if not hours, of your contract.
But you sense a heartfelt sincerity to the words when Trapasso proclaims himself the "luckiest guy in Hawaii" as he did on KITV the other night and tells anyone who will listen he feels "fortunate to be at UH and coach this team."
That’s a far cry from a year ago when he seemed to want to be any place but here. Trapasso insists that wasn’t the case, that he wasn’t hat-in-hand chasing jobs, but he acknowledged that it was a widely held perception that his moods did little to dissuade. Being in the shadow of the pioneering Les Murakami, a lifer in the job, accentuated the disparity.
This time last year, when athletic director Jim Donovan gave him a one-year contract extension after an early knockout in the WAC tournament—instead of the multi-year deal Trapasso had sought—he secluded himself in silence.
Somewhere along the line came a reckoning of sorts for Trapasso, a reexamination of his situation and realignment of his hopes. Perhaps it was the reality that, after eight years, his time here really was running out. Maybe it was the realization that this job could still be everything that he had wanted if only he embraced it that way again. Maybe it was an appreciation of that view of Diamond Head from Les Murakami Stadium and all that went with his first head coaching job.
Sometimes it takes the powerful threat of losing something once held precious to make you realize how blessed you’ve been all along.
Whatever it was—and Trapasso maintains "it wasn’t an overnight epiphany"—things began to change. "Everybody makes mistakes," Trapasso said. "No question that I have grown and evolved."
Not only in the way he looked at the job, but the way he began to deal with it. And you suspect it began to rub off on his team as well.
For years when Trapasso was pressed, you sensed a reflection of it in his team. It wasn’t hard to see a connection between the tension he applied to himself and the late-season slides some of his teams suffered.
But this year, after a humbling stretch, the ‘Bows didn’t fade. They rallied. They won seven of eight and 10 of 14 games to earn an NCAA tournament berth.
There is hope for the ‘Bows’ future and an acknowledgment that their coach embraces being part of it. "I’m really at peace," Trapasso said.
Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.