Dec. 9, 2011
By Terry Kelly
ABLUQUERQUE, N.M. - There was no place like home for former Lobo first baseman Dee Dennis. Dennis was born and raised in Albuquerque and played two years of varsity baseball at Eldorado High School. He graduated in 1996 and continued his career at Eastern Arizona Junior College. After his two years there, his decision to return to Albuquerque and play for UNM was an easy one.
"It was home," Dennis, now 33, said. "I really wanted to play for (former Lobos) Coach Alday. I definitely wanted to come back and play here. I knew a few of the guys on the team. I felt it was the place that I fit because it was home. It's easy to play at home. It's almost a no-brainer to come back and play at home in front of your friends and family like that."
Dennis joined the Lobos in 1999 for the team's final season in the Western Athletic Conference. It turned out to be a disappointing year as the team struggled to a sixth-place conference finish, even though Dennis had some success both at the plate and in the field. He hit .332, tied for the team lead with 10 three-hit games, and only made two errors in over 440 chances in the field, for a fielding percentage of .996.
The next season, however, brought a new league and new results for UNM. The 1999-2000 year was the inaugural season for the Mountain W
"If you go back and look at the preseason rankings, we were probably third or fourth," Dennis said. "I don't know if we had the most talent in the conference, but we definitely worked harder than most of it."
The team was not completely without talent, however, as Dennis was quick to point out. "It really was an amazing group of guys," he said. "We had Donny Sevieri and (preseason All-American) Aaron Sisk. Our ace was Chris Cooper. He's still playing in Italy for the national team. We had Scott Candelaria. We had a really good team with discipline and work ethic."
That discipline and work ethic was necessary as the team struggled to find its groove early in the season, losing some close games to Arizona and New Mexico State. Dennis, however, was red-hot right from the start, posting a hit in each of the team's first eight games. He hit .467 during the streak (14-30) with nine RBI and seven runs scored.
As good as Dennis was at the start of the season, he was even better once league play started. In the Lobos' first home series against San Diego State, Dennis hit .636 (7-11) with nine RBI and four runs scored in two games.
It was right then that the Lobos started to hit their stride. They won 16 of their first 18 league games, and from March 19 through April 21, the Lobos lost a total of one game. They finished conference play with a 22-8 record, which was good enough to win the regular season conference championship.
Dennis said it was his best memory of playing for the Lobos. "Winning is why you play," he said. "I'm most proud of being conference champs. We worked hard and it paid off. We were the first Mountain West Conference champs."
Even though the Lobos were upset in the conference tournament and didn't make the NCAA championship field, winning the inaugural regular season title was an accomplishment that can never be taken away from Dennis and his teammates.
"It was pretty heartbreaking to go to the tournament and go three and out," he said "That was pretty difficult. (But) the rest of the season was great. Everywhere we went we won. We just kept winning . . . There were a lot of highlights that season."
Indeed there were. The 22 conference wins for the Lobos remains the third-most single-season conference wins for any team in the history of the Mountain West Conference. The team also won 15 road games that year, which is the most the Lobos have won in a single season since joining the Mountain West. Lastly, the Lobos had eight players selected to the All-Conference first or second teams, including Dennis on the second-team.
Dennis' inclusion on the second-team was well deserved. He hit .323 with 45 runs scored, 51 RBI, and 21 extra-base hits all while playing stellar defense. He finished his career at UNM with a .327 batting average, 129 hits, 85 runs scored, 33 doubles, eight home runs, 88 RBI and only five errors in 770 total chances in the field.
"Dee is on e of the Lobo greats of all time," said Lobos head baseball coach Ray Birmingham. "He bleeds cherry and silver to this day. He was extremely successful as a player and is now a very successful businessman."
Following his graduation in 2001 with a major in university studies and minors in both communications and business, Dennis moved to Sacramento for one year before returning home once again. This time it was to work for the family business, DKD Electric. After working for a few years he began to take over the company in 2008 and is currently the CEO and managing partner.
Dennis has continued to follow the Lobos over the years and is impressed with the work Coach Birmingham is doing with the program.
"I think that he's doing a great job," he said. "He's getting a lot of support and working really hard at baseball in the state as a whole. The (high school) guys from my era like to see that because there were some of us that didn't even look at (playing for) UNM. They went all over the country, like to Notre Dame and Michigan. Keeping those players here is a big deal. We definitely have some very strong players that come out of Albuquerque and keeping those players instate is a very big deal. Not to mention he's just a great guy."
The Lobos currently have 13 players from the state of New Mexico on the roster, including seven from Albuquerque. The 2000 team also featured seven players from Albuquerque, including Sevieri and Candelaria, among the nine total players from New Mexico.
Dennis is also a donor for the program, so he has seen the current players up-close.
"I invite them into my home once a year for dinner, and 30 guys in your home can go either way," he said laughing. "But it's never gone badly. They leave early to study. They truly are student-athletes. It's no wonder they've been successful under Coach Birmingham."
The Lobos won the Mountain West Conference tournament last season and earned an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament. Dennis loves the makeup of the current team and sees even bigger things for them in the future.
"I think they are a very great group of young men," he said. "It's very easy to see why they're so successful. They're good people. They work hard. It's very nice to see that. I'd love to see them go even farther and take that next step and maybe even reach the World Series this year."