A new era was ushered in for the University of Hawaii baseball program on Friday when Rich Hill was introduced as the new head coach for the Rainbow Warriors.
Hill becomes just the program’s third coach since 1971. After previously leading the University of San Diego for 23 seasons, Hill says he’s invigorated by the challenge ahead.
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It isn’t just Hill who is relishing the fresh start. During the national search for the program’s next head coach, UH athletics director David Matlin reached out to the team’s current players to see what they wanted in their next head coach. Hill checked all the boxes.
“We had a significant number of applicants for the position and discussed the position with several sitting head coaches and other highly qualified candidates. Rich stood out as the best candidate to lead Hawaii baseball and develop our student-athletes,” Matlin said. “We met with the student-athletes during the search to the qualities that they thought were important to the baseball program and they offered the following: Significant baseball head coaching experience, high energy, someone who cares about Hawaii, our youth, with the ability to connect with the people of Hawaii and student-athletes and others in our community. An overachiever, that was something they really stressed. I want to thank the student-athletes for their input and the search advisors for their work in identifying Rich Hill with the experience, values, and energy to lead our baseball program.”
Said redshirt junior outfielder Matt Wong: “Basically, at the end of the day, we wanted somebody that just really cared about the islands, cared about the people, cared about the youth, and we wanted the whole island to be behind us no matter who our next head coach was. After we heard it was coach Rich Hill, with his history with Hawaii and his passion for the islands, we all agreed that yeah, this is the guy that we’re gonna get behind and he can take us to a championship.”
Hawaii baseball had been Hill’s dream job for quite some time. With a true affinity for the islands and the ocean, Hill is an avid surfer. He also has a tattoo on his left bicep that reads “Kūlia i ka Nuʻu,” Queen Kapiolani’s famous words that translate to “strive to reach the summit” in Hawaiian.
Besides getting Hawaii to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2010, among Hill’s biggest goals as he takes over the BaseBows is community outreach. In an introductory Zoom call with the team on Friday morning, he made his intentions clear.
“He hopped on a Zoom and introduced himself to us, the whole team was on the Zoom. His enthusiasm and his passion in his voice, you can tell he doesn’t just want to be in Hawaii, live in Hawaii but he wants the people of Hawaii to support him, to love him and he wants the respect. Just the fact that he wants to do community service, he wants to affect the youth, he wants the youth to look up to us. That’s huge for me being born and raised here because I want the kids to look up to us and I want the kids to want to come to the University of Hawaii to play baseball when they get older,” said Wong, a Saint Louis alum.
After winning the starting center field job prior to the start of the 2020 season, Wong sat out the 2021 campaign as he recovered from a torn left ACL. He says he’ll be “full go” and 100 percent for the 2022 season, and he knows he’s not alone.
“Our team group chat has been buzzing,” Wong said. “We’re all just talking about how hard we want to work and how fast we want to get on the field already and we all want to meet coach Rich Hill, we all want to talk to him in person but that’s not gonna come until August probably so as a team, we’re just reminding each other every day to put in the work, don’t stop working and keep going, never give up so it’s just basically getting ready for next year basically.”
Kamehameha alum Kalei Hanawahine holds the rare distinction of being the only player who played for both Hill and former Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso. Hanawahine played for San Diego from 2010 to 2011 before transferring to UH to finish the rest of his college career. He says current UH players can expect to have more regimented practices under Hill.
“I think just the overall personality of the two. Coach Trapasso is pretty laid back and chill, we’ll go about our business within practice and more of a pro ball approach where we’ll get to hit and go about our practice while coach Hill, he’s a little more structured about the regimen as far as practices, having more of a set schedule but as a player, you enjoy both of those types of practices so I think they’ll see a little bit of a change of pace in that sense but it’ll definitely be something that the players will have to get used to and I think they’ll do a good job of doing that,” Hanawahine said.
“Based on the few years that I played with him, I knew Hawaii was kind of a dream job for him, just his love for the water and the ocean and he always talked about it while he was at practice. So I wasn’t really surprised when he went for the vacancy here in Hawaii, but it was definitely news and got a lot of texts from former teammates, and from Hawaii. There’s definitely some buzz going on here.”