Up and coming
Magdalena High School baseball coach Manuel Martinez has an uphill battle, now in the second year of rebuilding a program that practically was started from scratch. But he and the Steers are climbing that hill, and the crest may not be as far off as it seems.
“I feel pretty good about this year,” Martinez said, adding that he’s pleased with what he’s got to work with. “I’ve got a lot of hard workers who love the game. I think we’re going to be there in the end.”
The end would be the state playoffs — something that would appear as far off as Magdalena Ridge. But in a district with just one other school, it’s not an insurmountable goal.
Martinez has set two goals for the team this year. First, finish with a winning record.
“I don’t know when the last time that happened,” he said. “The last two years, we’re 3-31. We have to start building that confidence.”
The other goal is to make it to the state playoffs. Though they have to get by just one team, it’s no easy task. That team is Gallup Catholic, which finished as Class 1A state runner-up last year and champions the year before.
But pitching can carry you a long way in high school baseball, and Martinez thinks he has the 1-2 punch that can get them there.
“We have two solid pitchers in Dre (Montoya) and Dylan (Julian). Dre could be a No. 1 for just about any program, and Dylan is a leader,” the coach said.
And while the Steers were at times a comedy of errors in the recent past, “our defense is getting better,” Martinez said.
This year’s team has to overcome some obstacles. About half of them got a late start this spring.
“We’re getting kids from basketball, who are having to catch up. But come mid-season, we’re going to be all right,” Martinez said.
Another is that Magdalena doesn’t benefit from a feeder system, like schools in larger communities that have youth baseball programs. The Steers are young and inexperienced.
“If you look at our lineup, we’ve got a freshman at first base, an eighth-grader at second, a freshman at shortstop, another freshman in right field and a junior in center,” he said. “So we have a bright future.”
The lineup Martinez fielded for the Steers’ season-opening doubleheader last Saturday had senior Weylin Melton at catcher, Jonathan “Spike” D’Amore at first, eighth-grader Jerry Torres at second, senior Daniel Hand at third when Julian was pitching and at shortstop when Montoya was on the mound. Julian and Montoya play third and shortstop, respectively, when the other is pitching.
The outfield from left to right goes senior John Rhodes, junior Jacob Lawless and freshman Zach Pino.
The roster includes seniors Quanshai Apachito, Nathan Martin and Phillip-Gabriel Sanchez, junior Justin Sandoval and eighth-grader Mauricio Padilla.
“And we have four girls,” Martinez said of Angelica and Chazley Apachito, Danielle Gordon and Ashley Tafoya.
Other teams are in the same boat, but Martinez said his team is having to adjust to the use of wood bats this year. The NMAA is requiring all high schools to use composite wood bats on an experimental basis.
Martinez said it’s taking his players a little time to get used to them.
“Eventually, we’ll get better,” he said.
After opening the season at home, the Steers play their next four games on the road. They have doubleheaders at East Mountain on Friday and at Monte del Sol in Santa Fe the following day.
The Steers return home to host Socorro’s junior varsity team on Thursday, March 29. Game times are set for 3 and 5 p.m.
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