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BEYOND THE PRESS BOX

Aggie baseball leads league in politeness, tidy buses

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Sometimes, your win-loss record doesn’t come close to telling the true story of your season.

That’s definitely the case for the New Mexico State University baseball team, which finished with a 20-34 record after being eliminated from the WAC tournament over Memorial Day weekend.

“Loser” is not a word that comes to mind when you think of this team and how it had to deal with some of the most restrictive
Covid rules in the nation, just to play the game it loves.

“It’s definitely been difficult, especially early, not really having a fall practice,” said head coach Mike Kirby, now in his second year with the program. “That’s when you put your sign system in, your first and thirds, your bunt defense, you work on your alignment. We didn’t get any of that.”

Let’s go through some of the challenges and obstacles that Aggies had to overcome in the past 15 months.

The Aggies had their 2020 season abruptly canceled because of the pandemic. This year, they had to deal with frequent testing, wearing masks everywhere they went, different limitations on how they could practice and, of course, limits on spectators both at home and on the road.

The Aggies were forced to play their first seven games of the season on the road and only had two nonconference games at home.

It was a tough way to start the season, but the Aggies fought back and showed plenty of spirt and grit.

In the WAC tournament in Mesa, Arizona, last week, they beat Seattle University 7-5 in the opening round on May 26. In the quarterfinals the next day, the Aggies actually led top-seeded and eventual WAC tournament champion Grand Canyon University 4-1 after three but couldn’t hold on and lost 5-4.

The wheels then fell off with a season-ending 10-0 loss to Seattle U in an elimination game on May 28.

Still, Kirby said perhaps the most gratifying part about the season was how his team hung together like brothers, through all the ups and downs.

“My team is the best,” Kirby said. “I love these dudes. These guys show up every day, work hard, have fun. They are great teammates. You wouldn’t know we had lost six in a row” headed into the WAC tournament.

Of course, NMSU wasn’t alone in having to deal with the vagaries of the pandemic, but they handled it all with a degree of grace, dignity and politeness that impressed almost everyone they came across.

“I can’t tell you how many compliments I’ve gotten throughout the season and last season, stuff like, ‘They’re the best team we’ve ever had at our hotel,’” Kirby said. “A bus driver told us, ‘I’ve never been on a cleaner bus after a team. Thank you.’”

Outfielder Zerek Saenz, a Las Cruces native, said it was a difficult year at times, but he never lost his love for the game or his appreciation for being able to play for his hometown Aggies.

“It is really special to me,” said Saenz, a Mayfield High product. “Not a lot of kids get this opportunity.”

Left-handed pitcher Sammy Natera also is playing for his “hometown” team but in a more roundabout way. Natera is from Juarez and attended Lydia Patterson Institute in downtown El Paso, where he starred in both baseball and basketball.

“It was a weird season for us,” Natera said. “Getting tested every other day and wearing masks. It was hard at the beginning but we got used to it. It was like the new normal.”

Natera said despite the weirdness of the season, he is also thrilled to be a member of the Aggie baseball program.

“It’s pretty special,” Natera said. “I feel like it is home. It’s an hour away from home. I can go back anytime I want. I love it here.”

Now, the Aggies can look forward to next season and getting a chance to flip their win-loss record toward the positive side.

NMSU, Baseball