July 26, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Coming to the University of New Mexico out of Fort Worth, Tex., in 1997, Aaron Sisk could not have dreamed how his Lobo career would play out.
“I went there as a pitcher with the understanding that I would get to play a little at third base and then close some games,” he said.
UNM coaches kept their word as his first four appearances for the Lobos came on the mound. He struggled, however, allowing nine runs and 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings, so he moved to third base full-time.
Sisk’s bat exploded.
“One thing led to another, they found out I could hit a little bit and things worked out,” he explained with a laugh.
Talk about an understatement.
He made his first start at third base on Feb. 14, 1998, against Lubbock Christian and went 3-for-5 with a run, two RBIs and a double. Things just got better from there.
After hitting only eight home runs in his high school career, he smashed nine as a freshman, 20 as a sophomore to tie the UNM record, and then broke that record with 24 as a junior in 2000. His 53 career home runs are the most in school history, and he accomplished it in only three years. The rest of the Top-5 home run hitters at UNM all totaled their numbers in four years.
Sisk finished his career as one of the greatest hitters to ever put on the cherry and silver, and the numbers still stack up over a decade later. He hit .345 (215-for-623) over three seasons with 172 runs scored, 198 RBIs, 56 doubles, six triples, 53 home runs, 24 stolen bases, 101 walks, a .437 on base percentage, a .703 slugging percentage, and 442 total bases. In addition to the home run mark, he is third in school history in slugging and fourth in RBIs. Also, 442 total bases are the most a UNM player has ever had in three years at the school.
His sophomore and junior seasons in 1999 and 2000 also rank as some of the best in school history. He was named an All-American in each season to become only the second two-time All-American at UNM. His 24 and 20 home runs rank second and fourth on the single-season list, respectively, his 81 RBIs in 2000 are tied for fourth most, and the 173 total bases he racked up in both 1999 and 2000 rank seventh in school history. He also put together a 29-game hitting streak in 1999, which at the time tied for the longest in school history and today ranks tied for third.
Sisk’s record-setting junior season in 2000 helped the Lobos set a school record with 19 road wins on their way to winning the Mountain West regular-season championship in the league’s inaugural season. He was named Mountain West Player of the Week three times on his way to earning Mountain West Player of the Year honors. It also shot him up draft boards, and the Toronto Blue Jays took him in the seventh round of the Major League Baseball draft that June. That was enough for him to forego his senior season at UNM and begin his professional career.
“I played nine years from rookie ball up to Triple-A and a little independent baseball,” he said. “I made my rounds.”
Despite not reaching the majors, Sisk found some success in professional baseball, smacking 130 doubles, 19 triples, 89 home runs and driving in 369 runs. He now works back home in Fort Worth in the family business. Despite living in the heart of TCU country he still keeps tabs on all UNM sports, especially the baseball program.
“I was at all the TCU-Lobo games (in Fort Worth) this year,” he said. “I try to make it out to Albuquerque a couple times a year. I was there for opening weekend and threw out a first pitch with (former teammate) Dee Dennis.
“It seems like I’m always checking on them. I’m always checking to see how the baseball or basketball team is doing.”
It should be no wonder how invested Sisk is in the university and program because he loved his time in Albuquerque. When asked what his favorite memory as a Lobo was he was unable to come up with a single answer.
“Oh wow,” he said as he paused to think. “Junior year winning the conference was great. Making all the friendships that I have. A lot of guys I’m still close with and stay in contact with. The whole experience of college, too. Baseball was a bonus. The friendships, the family-like buddies that I still have today are incredible.”
One friend in particular that he kept coming back to was Dennis, the first baseman on the championship team in 2000.
“Dee is a great guy,” he said. “One thing people probably don’t realize about him is he played first base with two separated shoulders for two years. Anytime there was a throw over his head he’d reach up and his shoulder would pop out and he’d have to pop it back in.
“He’s one of the warriors that doesn’t get enough credit.”
Sisk said he and Dennis have been donating the jackets to the team for the past few years and he tries to stay as involved as possible.
“I know several scouts in the area,” he said. “I try to send Coach (Ray) Birmingham the names of guys they might not have heard of yet or who are flying under the radar. I come out for the alumni games. I do anything I can to help.”
And who can blame him for wanting to help? The Lobos are on an unprecedented run of success and Sisk is thrilled about the potential in both next year’s team and the program as a whole.
“Omaha (and the College World Series) is the ultimate goal,” he said. “Birmingham said it. He’s got everybody on board. Omaha or bust. Let’s go win a national championship and put our foot down on college baseball.
“They’ve overcome some big hurdles, getting into regionals the past few years. They’ve been just a pitch or two away. Omaha is the ultimate goal.”
And Sisk could not be more effusive in his praise of the job the head coach of the Lobos is doing.
“Coach Birmingham is unbelievable,” he said. “He’s the greatest man I’ve ever met in baseball. The way he has that organization rolling is great. It’s a fun time to be a Lobo fan and a fun time to be a Lobo. They’ve won the conference the past few years and made some regionals. From top to bottom it’s fun and it’s fun to be a part of. He’s doing an unbelievable job.”
The respect and appreciation is fully reciprocated by Birmingham.
“I wish I would’ve got to coach him and Dennis and so many other Lobos in the past,” UNM's head coach said. “They’re why I’m doing this. We have so many great alumni and Aaron Sisk is one of the greatest Lobos of all time.”
Sisk sees tremendous promise in next year’s squad, and wanted to offer some advice to the young men who will look to help UNM make it to the NCAA postseason for a fourth straight season.
“Just stick to the plan,” he said. “Everybody wants to get to the big leagues, but enjoy where you’re at and work hard. It takes all the blood sweat and tears that everybody talks about. Birmingham is a hard-nosed coach and he expects things done the right way. That’s why I relate to him. That’s the kind of player I was. But just stick to the hard work and hope things pay off.”
In closing, the Lobo great could think of only one thing to say.
Aaron Sisk Career Stats
1998 – .364, 51-for-140, 36 runs, 41 RBIs, 16 doubles, one triple, nine home runs, one stolen bases, 24 walks, .455 on base percentage, .686 slugging percentage, 96 total bases
1999 – .348, 89-for-256, 67 runs, 76 RBIs, 22 doubles, one triple, 20 home runs, four stolen bases, 32 walks, .385 on base percentage, .676 slugging percentage, 173 total bases
2000 – .330, 75-for-227, 69 runs, 81 RBIs, 18 doubles, four triples, 24 home runs, 19 stolen bases, 45 walks, 1 hit by pitch, .443 on base percentage, .762 slugging percentage, 173 total bases
Career – .345, 215-623, 172 runs, 198 RBIs, 56 doubles, six triples, 53 home runs, 24 stolen bases, 101 walks, 1 hit by pitch, .437 on base percentage, .703 slugging percentage, 442 total bases