Dec. 17, 2008
By Laura Rasmussen-Media Relations Student Assistant
They may not classify themselves as loud, label themselves as vocal or be heard shouting, but the 2009 Lobo baseball teams captains have a way of speaking volumes.
Which is why head coach Ray Birmingham selected position players Kevin Atkinson, Mike Brownstein, Dane Hamilton, Max Willett and pitchers Clinton Cox and Daniel Grubbs as his captains for the upcoming season.
Although all six are self-proclaimed "leaders by example," Birmingham couldn't ask for anything better.
"A captain has to walk the walk as much as talk the talk," Birmingham said. "These six make sure their actions speak louder than their words."
"We are a pretty unique clan," Cox said. "We lead by the way we play, the way we carry ourselves. It is kind of odd because none of us are really that vocal, but if it came to a point where we had to get someone's attention by talking to them, we could do it. On a normal, everyday basis, though, that is not the way we go about our business."
As captains, Birmingham looks to the six to represent and lead the team at all moments, not just on the diamond.
"They are all great students and tremendous people," Birmingham said. "Those six emphasize the Lobo pride that we are trying to establish where when you are a Lobo baseball player you do everything the right way and your aspirations are as high as they can be."
Brownstein, Cox, Grubbs, and Hamilton were all named to the Mountain West Conference All-Academic team in 2008, with Cox and Grubbs garnering MWC Scholar Athlete Awards as well.
"We pride ourselves on staying on top of our school work," Hamilton said. "Finding a balance with the long season is key and that is one thing we help the others out with."
"Everyone has their own key aspects," said Willett, the only junior of the bunch. "When you have six people as captains you definitely get a wide variety of leadership styles, but with all of us together we really form a strong group."
Birmingham said he likes having six different players who can bring their own experiences and knowledge to the game to share with the incoming transfers as well as the underclassmen.
He said the captains embrace their role of instilling a legacy of the Lobo baseball culture.
"I think the younger guys really respect us, knowing what we went through last year and how close we are," Brownstein said. "They are really learning what New Mexico baseball is all about and we are trying to carry it over to the upcoming years."
Hamilton and Willett are embarking on their fourth year at UNM. Hamilton, an infielder, appeared in 31 games in 2008, compiling a .295 average. Birmingham looks for him to have a breakout year in 2009. After getting off to a hot start, Willett an outfielder suffered a season-ending injury after just 12 games.
The other four captains were junior college transfers in 2008. Having the knowledge of making that transition is key with the 14 junior college transfers on board for the 2009 season.
The six know their role as captains extends beyond teaching a freshman to throw a slider or showing a junior transfer to lay down a textbook bunt.
"My goal is to help them out with not so much the actual skill part of the game, but all the stuff that goes with it," Cox said.
Adds Atkinson: "You might not be the best skilled team, but if you know what you are doing and you can be prepared, then you have a good chance to win."
Together, first baseman Atkinson and second baseman Brownstein anchored down the right side of the UNM infield, starting all 59 games for the Lobos. The two were named to the All-MWC second team. Brownstein, who hit in the No. 1 slot, was a catalyst for the Lobos, finishing 2008 with a .350 batting average and leading the team with a .429 on-base percentage. Atkinson collected 51 RBIs and 31 extra-base hits.
The seniors, as well as Willett, are ready to use their own experiences to guide the new Lobos.
"You learn what to do in certain situations," Grubbs said. "You learn how to handle the stress of the season, combined with school, but a lot of the time it comes down to just being there to help everyone out."
Grubbs and Cox teamed up to provide a successful late-inning combination for the Lobos last year. The two look to build upon that as well as help the pitching staff stay focused.
"We want to let the pitchers know they have to stay strong and work really hard during the week," Grubbs said. "We can't get complacent preparing for the weekend."
Grubbs and Cox combined for 56 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 74.2 innings pitched out of the Lobos' bullpen in 2008.
"Clinton and Daniel are probably the two hardest working guys on the team," Atkinson said. "If all the pitchers work like they do, we should be one of the top pitching teams in the conference."
The attitude of his captains is perhaps what pleases Birmingham the most.
"The bottom line is we are developing young men who will represent themselves, represent this university, represent this state the rest of their lives," Birmingham said. "These guys inspire me every day. They help build that culture that becomes a quest for excellence in everything you do, not just baseball."