ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The University of New Mexico baseball team held its alumni weekend last month, highlighted by the alumni game on Lobo Field. Prior to the game head coach Ray Birmingham gathered his current players and all the alumni at home plate for a special ceremony.
Birmingham dedicated a plaque to the memory of Tom Dunn, a former letterwinner from the early 60s who helped save the program from being cut in the late 80s. Birmingham’s message was clear.
“You are Lobos for life,” he told the gathered group. “No matter what happens you will always be a Lobo.”
Recently there have been several examples of Lobos helping Lobos in and around the baseball program. This summer, former first team All-American and first-round MLB draft pick DJ Peterson donated money to pay for the team's Mountain West Championship rings from last season. Two years ago the team won the inaugural Lobo Service Award for its work in the community during the 2011-12 school year. More recently, the program received a $500,000 donation from R.D. and Joan Dale Hubbard to build a new clubhouse at Lobo Field.
The latest example will take place Friday afternoon at Sandia Golf Club, as former letterwinner Ernie Blackstone helped organize a golf tournament to raise money for the program.
“I’ve always been very involved with Lobo athletics,” said Blackstone, whose wife, Pam, lettered at UNM in gymnastics. “This is the first year for the golf tournament. We just threw it together about five weeks ago. We want to raise money to help cover the general operating funds for the program.”
There will be 48 players in the tournament, and Blackstone, pictured above on the right, said the goal is to turn it into an annual event.
“I called Rocky Hughes at Land Rover Albuquerque and told him what I wanted to do,” he explained. “Five weeks later we’re here. The goal is to host it during the Friday of Balloon Fiesta every year so people can plan around it. It also allows the young men playing professional baseball to be involved.”
Jordan Pacheco, Scott Gracey, Steve Smith are among the current professional players and former Lobos who will be there. Pacheco donated an autographed jersey to be auctioned off, and Peterson, who is unable to attend, donated a game-used bat to be auctioned off as well.
“We’d luke to get it to have over 200 golfers where we have the course all day and a banquet the night before,” said Blackstone. “We want to make it a big deal. We want to be able to raise a substantial amount of money for Coach Birmingham.”
Blackstone, who used to own Coaches Sports Grill in Albuquerque where the baseball team would host watch parties and celebrations, was not alone in his efforts. Another former letterman, Rick Ronquillo, who is pictured on the left above, has been instrumental in helping the tournament get started. Also, Samantha Hughes at Land Rover Albuquerque has basically been heading up the whole effort, he said, while longtime Lobo supporter Kara Dana has also helped. When asked why so many people are willing to help the program, Blackstone gave one main cause: the head coach.
“The number one reason is Ray Birmingham,” he said. “He has a personality that draws people to the program. And beyond that you look at the success he has had here. We’re in the southwest and baseball should be huge at UNM. He’s doing that.”
Blackstone said all the donations are running through the Dugout Club, the program’s fundraising arm. Anyone interested in donating to the Dugout Club should contact Birmingham at email@example.com or see the attached flyer.