I will never forget the first time I
met Coach Ray Birmingham. A friend of mine from Hobbs was in town for
high school baseball tournament. His lifelong friend, Scott Gladen was
coach at Eunice High School. We were standing on the concourse at the
Albuquerque Sports Stadium talking when a guy came bounding up, Scott
turned to me and said; " I want to introduce you to the best junior
baseball coach in the USA, Ray Birmingham!" Ray deadpanned right
Scott, "Sorry, I am a little short on cash, can I write you a check?"
laughed a lot at that and it really made an instant impression on me;
could make a little joke at his expense. I was also intrigued.
would be scouting "AA" high school baseball? Ray said that not only had
found a lot of talent at that level but to leave a stone unturned would
too heavy on his mind. "What if that kid I missed on came back to beat
was just as obvious that Coach Ray also loves to watch baseball.
Ray back in the day!
We didn't stay in touch that often
but Coach Birmingham always remembered me and had a ready story to tell
mutual friend who wanted to catch up with me. Coach Ray has a great
is interested in all things "New Mexico", because, you see, Coach Ray
proud a New Mexican as there is. When Rich Alday retired at UNM after
at the helm of Lobo baseball, I got a call almost the very next day.
Ray Birmingham, what are you doing? I am ready to take UNM baseball to
unprecedented heights, what do you think?" I replied; "Well you
know until you try, right? Isn't that what you are always telling me?"
lobbied a little for Ray, calling AD Paul Krebs and Associate AD Tim
think my call, if it had any effect at all, was more of a heads up to
Tim that a lot of people would be calling on behalf of Ray Birmingham.
perfect sense once you meet Ray and become his friend. When you do
there is an
instant bond and it makes you want to help him win baseball games for
The calls were obviously made but I am sure that Ray pursued the
way that a hungry dog pursues a bone. Or, maybe, how a "hungry Lobo"
its prey would be a better analogy. Or, maybe, what Paul
to me (in my ever growing but fuzzy memory bank) when he called me
was hired. It went something like this: I thought he was crazy, insane,
came in. All he kept saying was College World Series this and NCAA
that. I told him that this had not happened at UNM since the Brooklyn
moved to LA or some such nonsense, but the more Ray talked the more I
he was serious and had a well thought out plan. His confidence in
his methods were equally impressive. So I hired him.
Ever since that day, UNM baseball
has never been the same. Coach Birmingham has turned the MWC on its
ear. In the
first season he guided UNM to within two outs of an automatic bid to an
Regional via the MWC baseball tournament. Little light in the pitching
halted the UNM juggernaut. Lack of hitting and defense did not. Not one
on his laurels, Coach Birmingham and his Lobos started this year's
if there collective hair was on fire. Rising in the polls the Lobos
number 18 in the USA Today mid-March. UNM has put up great numbers but
years MWC features some formidable opponents. SDSU with their ace Steve
Strasburg: TCU with a "million dollar" budget, and all the
being in a talent rich state: BYU which is, well, BYU. They spend money
sports like a spendthrift on a shopping spree. These teams are loaded
talent and have always been spoiling UNM and its bid for the crown.
Birmingham did not take last year's MWC Tournament defeat sitting down.
his staff went on an arms race. The result is a better pitching staff
ace closer Cole White and freshman sensation Rudy Jaramillo. Still, the
season slide and some tough series losses on the road to Nebraska and
showed the team that it still has a ways to go. Undaunted, Coach Ray
waded in and
became even more involved in the pitching decisions. The knock on this
team has been its performance on the road and at sea level, especially
regard to pitching. Coach Birmingham knows this as well as anyone. That
he has been burning the midnight oil, even going so far as to schedule
baseball banquet on May 3, well before the season is over in order to
chaos that is the end of the college baseball season as all the players
for summer baseball. Finals just ended so he has some additional time
on the pitching issues. Some people ask how Coach Birmingham could meld
past of Alday with the present of Coach Ray. If you know Ray Birmingham
answer is as easy as Brian Cavasos-Galvaz pounding a juicy fastball
wall. Practice, patience and a lot of love...
The adjustments seem to have
paid off as the Lobos moved one step closer to their season long
an NCAA Regional berth. They bested Air Force 25-7 on Thursday, 6-2 on
and 19-6 on Saturday to earn a bye and the number two seed for the
baseball tournament. The Lobos finish the season at 38-17 15-8 in
good for second place. The Lobos needed a break and got one when Utah
SDSU. Someone has to beat TCU at the tournament and it might as well be
The Lobos last venture into frog country left them 0-3. That trip
not even a memory but more motivation to succeed. Because, you see,
Birmingham has a lot of work still left to do. He has a team to
lead to that elusive NCAA Regional berth. The Lobos can almost taste it
some more cooking needs to be done. The oven is hot and the ingredients
there to make it a tasty dish. Coach Birmingham is giving it time and a
love. Last time the Lobos left TCU with, as The Charlie Daniels Band
a bad case of "Birmingham Blues". The team is hoping to change the tune
opponents will leave Lupton Field with a bad case of the Birmingham