What was once known as Rainbow Stadium had been home to University of Hawai’i baseball since 1984. For much of its history, all it knew was success with head coach Les Murakami led the baseball program from 1971 to 2000. In the nearly three decades, Coach Les took the Rainbows to 11 NCAA regional championships and was one game away from a College World title. Series in 1980.
It took just two years for the stadium to be dubbed “the house that Les built” and it took a year for Les Murakami Stadium to house its new coach in Mike Trapasso. After two trips to NCAA Regionals in his first nine years, Trapasso’s success stalled for years until he and the university agreed to part ways after the 2021 season.
Little did Hawaiian baseball fans know it, the future No. 3 coach was already on his way and had been eager to land the job since he first saw the team nearly thirty years ago.
The day the job became available, longtime University of San Diego baseball program coach Rich Hill recalled his phone exploding. His phone buzzed with numerous texts and phone calls, friends and peers telling Coach Hill to go apply for the opening of the University of Hawaii baseball program.
“It was absolutely the right time in our lives and in my career to take on this project, which I consider to be the most important thing I will do with my life.”
And in the canoe at Les Murakami stadium, a dollar bill is taped to the wall. Coach Hill trains his new team on the “dollar bill mentality”.
“It’s like when you went to carnivals as a kid, they have these games where you have to throw a dart to pop a balloon, or knock down the clowns with a baseball, and you don’t. Then , you look at your mom and dad with puppy faces and you say, “Can I have an extra dollar?” If you’re a parent like me, you say, “Okay, here’s another one,” and that keep going and it keeps going,” Hill said.
“That’s not the case with this UH Rainbow Warriors baseball team. We have a dollar. It’s just that unique game mentality… Do your best to win the round, and when the smoke clears, are we ahead or behind in the scoreboard? »
Becoming the third baseball coach in college history, Hill knows the importance of keeping traditions alive from his own experience at the University of San Diego. Much like his new job, he took over the USD job for John Cunningham who is retiring. Cunningham not only coached the program for 35 seasons, he helped the program transition out of Division II and eventually join the now West Coast Conference.
Hill helped the program take the next step, winning the West Coast Conference seven times with the Toreros, reaching eight NCAA regional championships and placing eighth in 2007.
Before beginning his head coaching career, Rich Hill reminisced about the first time he visited Hawai’i and its baseball program, and how closely he’s kept tabs on the program ever since. “I’ve had a love affair with the University of Hawai’i baseball program since I went on a recruiting trip in 1980,” Hill said. “I felt like I was in the big leagues.”
Hill’s love affair went beyond college. He remembered visiting Hawai’i as a child, and more recently bringing his own family when he was growing up. He fell in love with surfing and paddling during his extended stays of three weeks or more. “I fell in love with the place, and especially the people, and always had my eye on the job.”
He used that love to inspire him at USD. On his left bicep, a tattoo reads a quote from Queen Kapi’olani, “Kūlia i ka nu’u”, or “Strive to reach the top”. The words of Queen Kapi’olani inspired Hill during his half-dozen years as a Torero battling for the top spot in the WCC and NCAA regional championships.
“I felt it was appropriate that I wanted to see this every day as I dressed for work… She really inspired me with those words,” Hill said. Along with tradition, Hill recognizes the most important part of any baseball program across the country: the players. And another tattoo ensures that Coach Hill never forgot it.
“Just below it is ‘I am with you.’ As a coach, I think it’s really important — it’s the most important thing — to know that you’re with them, and we can never forget that we’re in this profession, for our players to succeed. and to have a platform to achieve their goals in life.
Much like new peer Timmy Chang, Hill recognizes the importance of keeping top homegrown players in the state. His first streak as Rainbow Warrior on February 18 included a range of majority local players, ranging from the islands of O’ahu, the Big Island, Maui, Kaua’i and even Lāna’i.
“It’s the Hawai’i team,” Hill said. “To be the Hawai’i team, we – not just the players and the coaches, it’s the administration and the fans – have to create a brand where everyone, our local boys, want to stay home. and want to be a part of Rainbow Warriors baseball.”
Hill said the cornerstone of this program will be the best local players they can sign, and Hill is very comfortable with his job for the incoming class for 2023.
In discussions with Hill, it’s hard not to feel a secondary excitement from his energy, and it’s an energy that attracts and motivates his players. Junior Scotty Scott ended last season by registering his name in the transfer portal after leaving Trapasso. Shortly after hearing Hill’s introductory press conference, Scott got his number to ask if he could become a Rainbow Warrior again.
It’s that kind of energy that Hill demands from his team every day. “You’re going to see marked improvement every day because of their immersion in the process and their commitment to excellence,” Hill said. “We’re not looking forward to being in Washington State, we’re looking forward to training tomorrow… Every day is an opportunity to get better at our craft.”
“It’s lucky to be a very special season, regardless of wins and losses.”