Ridge Hoopii-Haslam keeps on hitting, despite a jump up in competition and change of location that bears no resemblance to his comfortable home in Hilo, where there’s nothing like mom’s cooking and a dip in the ocean.
The 2011 Hilo graduate is far from family, more than 3,770 miles away at Oklahoma Baptist University, where the baseball team is ranked No. 1 for the first time in the latest NAIA coaches Top 25 poll.
In 40 games as the starting second baseman, Hoopii-Haslam is batting .339 (42 of 124) with three homers, 29 RBIs with a .396 on-base average and a .589 slugging clip for the Bison (34-6).
OBU, which started with a school-record 22 straight wins, unseated defending national champion Faulkner (Ala.) for the top spot. The Bison are 14-4 in the Sooner Athletic Conference.
Hoopii-Haslam spent his previous two seasons at Luna College in New Mexico. He was first-team all-conference in 2013 and all-region, a higher honor, his first year.
Reece Alnas, a 2007 Kamehameha graduate, played at OBU and gave Hoopii-Haslam the scoops about his time there, especially 2011 when the Bison reached the World Series in his senior year.
Hoopii-Haslam, who’s on a full-ride scholarship, was recruited by assistant Cliff Corniel, who’s from Maui. The head coach is Bobby Cox, not the Atlanta Braves former manager. The Bison’s Cox has never had a losing record in 27 seasons.
Although OBU is farther from home than Luna College, Hoopii-Haslam has found comfort with the Bison, who feature 19 players from California, though no others from Hawaii, on their 30-player roster.
“The competition is great, and we’ve got lots of kids from California. They’re all gamers, and want to play baseball,” Hoopii-Haslam. “It starts from the fall. In the offseason we wake up at 4:30 a.m. and the whistle blows at 5:10 for training. It’s all paying off.
“Luna was very much a culture shock. There’s nothing to do there. All I did was sleep, wake up, train, go to school, train again or play ball and go to sleep. Here in Shawnee, Okla., there’s a lot more stuff to do. Oklahoma City is not very far, a 20-minute drive.
“Everything is rolling here. I love it here, playing ball and loving college life. I’m going to school and we’re trying to win a national championship.”
Hit the books
Asked his biggest improvement, he didn’t talk about his ability to get on base nearly half the time or put himself into scoring position with steals. He’s 11 of 12 in stolen base attempts. Instead, Hoopii-Haslam pointed to his academic work.
Hoopii-Haslam is majoring in sports science and kinesiology and holding a 3.0 grade-point average. For him, that is a proud achievement over his baseball honors. He was the two-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation player of the year for the Vikings.
“I was the high school kid who sometimes wouldn’t go to class or do homework,” he said. “I was on cruise control. But when I went to Luna I had to step it up. I had to grind it out when I came here, becoming a better man and taking care of myself. Not many people can say they went to college and then to a bigger and better place.
“I’m always having support from home. That drives me to be more responsible. I wake up every day appreciating my mom (Carrie Hoopii) and dad (Russell Haslam) putting things on the table for me. When I was a little kid growing up, from them I knew what was good and bad and what needed to be done to be successful.
“One of the role models I looked up to, of course, was Kolten Wong (a 2008 Kamehameha graduate). I trained with him all my life and was brought up in baseball with his dad, Kaha Wong. I’ve always wanted to be a winner and hard work pays off.”
The Bison host the SAC Tournament May 2-5. The last time they reached the NAIA World Series was 2011, when Alnas was a senior. There are still games to play until the conference tourney, and each passing day Hoopii-Haslam is finding OBU more to his liking.
“When I first got here, it was getting below zero degrees and getting so cold,” he said. “This place was crazy. I was thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ But the love of the game drives me. Every day I get my head in the books and get my studies done. I’ve never loved studying as much as I do now.
“When I first got here, it was a culture shock and it’s different from Hilo. It’s not like I can go down the road and jump into the water. But the biggest thing is I love meeting new people from all over the country and becoming good friends. We’ve got camaraderie on our team and everybody is on the same page. We want to achieve our goal, and our record shows it.”
On Thursday at home, the Bison pelted Mid-America (Okla.) Christian 15-2. Hoopii-Haslam batted 0 for 3, but he drew a walk and scored a run. OBU is on a four-game winning streak and rolling again.
The two teams play again today and Saturday. Then there 11 more games that fill out April. It’s a busy time for Hoopii-Haslam, who always has home on his mind.
“I miss my mom’s cooking, and, of course, going to the beach,” he said.
To submit a candidate for a Big Island College Report feature, email kjakahi@ hawaiitribune-herald.com.