Mike Trapasso and Kaha Wong had a productive symbiotic relationship, one that changed the direction of UH-Manoa’s baseball program and opened the door for Big Island kids to play Division I ball.
The Big Island’s best not only played at majestic Les Murakami Stadium on Spectrum TV, enjoyed by family and friends, but also faced nationally ranked opponents in front of MLB scouts.
Trapasso’s contract was not renewed on Tuesday by UH athletic director David Matlin after 20 years that included a 536-531 record, including 12 winning seasons and a 24-26 record this year, including 16-24 in the Big West.
“He called me and said he was disappointed but had no hard feelings,” said Wong, who was in San Francisco watching his son Kean Wong playing against the Giants. “I was surprised too (Trapasso wasn’t retained).”
Trapasso’s biggest recruit was Kolten Wong, who played for the Rainbows from 2009 to ’11. In 2008, UH went 29-31. The next season, the Rainbows went 32-26, then 35-28 in 2010 and lost to Arizona State in the Tempe, Ariz., regional championship, and were 34-25 and fell to Fresno State in the WAC championship in 2011.
Without Kolten Wong, who was drafted in the first round by the Cardinals in 2011, UH posted a 30-25 record and went 0-2 in the WAC tournament in 2012.
Then the roller-coaster began. UH had four straight losing seasons, went 28-23 in 2017, 27-24 in 2018, 20-30 in 2019, and 11-6 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
UH hasn’t been back to the postseason since 2012, but Trapasso continued to give scholarships to the Big Island’s best players on Wong’s recommendation.
The 2021 roster had five BIIF players in Jacob Igawa (Waiakea), DallasJ Duarte (Kamehameha), Tai Atkins (Kamehameha), Stone Miyao (Waiakea) and Safea Villaruz-Mauai (Waiakea).
No other Division I school in the nation has ever had that many BIIF players on its roster for any sport.
“He gave Big Island kids the chance to experience what Kolten experienced,” Wong said. “A chance to play Division I baseball. He’s a good friend, and I’ve got nothing to say about him, except for good things. Hopefully, he’ll get another Division I job, and I’ll have another avenue.”
Trapasso didn’t always land the Big Island’s best talent. The MLB draft robbed him of Kean Wong, drafted in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Rays, and Jodd Carter, picked in the 24th round by the Cleveland Indians, a pair of players who had the talent to carry a program.
Waiakea left-hander Myles Ioane, a two-time BIIF player of the year, signed with UH in 2006 but injured his arm, which curtailed a promising future.
After Kolten Wong left in 2011, Trapasso snagged Waiakea left-hander Quintin Torres-Costa in 2013. Then he secured Hilo High catcher Chayce Kaaua and Konawaena infielder JJ Kitaoka in 2014.
In 2016, Kamehameha outfielder Kobi Candaroma signed with UH before transferring to Mount Mercy, an NAIA school in Iowa.
The next year, Kamehameha infielder/outfielder Daylen Calicdan was on UH’s roster, followed by teammate Duarte in 2019.
The 2020 class welcomed Miyao and Atkins, and the 2021 class reeled in Villaruz-Mauai and Igawa. Recent Konawaena graduate Bronson Rivera has signed with UH as well.
“Many of us were full of mixed emotions from our performances this past season, so hearing this news was quite a shock,” Atkins said. “I am very thankful for everything coach Trap has done for all of us and this program.
“I’m positive that this clean slate will benefit our players in the coming years. I’m excited to see what fate has in store for this program.”
The roster will have a few job openings with the departure of senior starters in first baseman Alex Baeza, catcher Tyler Murray, pitcher Logan Poulsen, and Aaron Davenport, a likely MLB draft pick.
Duarte (shoulder), Villaruz-Mauai (elbow), and Igawa (summer school) won’t play summer ball. Atkins is headed to the California Collegiate League and Miyao will play ball in New York.
The new UH coach also has work to do, basically recruiting the Big Island players again. They and everyone else can all go through the transfer portal, a ticket to freedom to jump ship to new schools in D-I
Perhaps the new UH coach can have a similar symbiotic relationship with Kaha Wong, who long ago established himself as the Big Island’s best pipeline of talent that continues to serve the Rainbows well.