Friday, May 17, 2013

Column: Always a Thunderbird

Clayton Jones/News-Sun
NMJC's Luis Hernandez throws to first during
the T-Birds' win against Weatherford on Monday.
(This column ran in Thursday's edition of the Hobbs News-Sun)

  As I walked down to chat with New Mexico Junior College baseball coach Josh Simpson after its season-ending loss to Grayson near midnight Monday in Grand Prairie, Texas, I had my mind set to do a recap this week of NMJC’s time at the regional tournament (including its struggles at the plate) since I had to rush a story out for Tuesday’s paper to beat deadline.
  When I reached field level, I knew I wanted to take a different approach.
  The Thunderbirds were devastated. No, there weren’t tears shed, but it was easy to see their disappointment. You could actually feel the letdown from the players.
  The T-Birds, who had their best season under Simpson at 45-15, were right there during the regional tournament. Their pitching was fantastic (10 runs allowed in four games, including five in the first three games) but they just couldn’t get the timely hitting it desperately needed – losing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth to Howard and 5-3 on two runs scored in the bottom of the eighth by Grayson.
  But one scene after NMJC’s season came to a close under the lights at QuikTrip Park stood out to me.

  I was talking with Simpson on the steps of the dugout, looked in and noticed NMJC ace Cameron Smith sitting on the bench staring down.
  The left-hander was eyeing his Thunderbird bright yellow jersey he had worn that night – now folded up neatly in his hands. Smith had a blank gaze looking at it – like he never wanted to let it go.
  Smith has plenty to look forward to. He’ll likely be a weekend starter for Texas Tech next season as he went 13-1 this season with an ERA under 3.00 in the tough Western Junior College Athletic Conference. He’s a winner and will be a great asset for Texas Tech.
  However, at that moment being a Red Raider seemed to be the outermost thing on his mind.
  Smith didn’t want to let go of being a Thunderbird.
  He doesn’t have to. He and all his teammates moving on will always be a T-Bird even if they’re going to be a Red Raider, a Lobo, an Aggie or whatever next season.
  While two years is a short time in our lives, these years the young men spend in Hobbs is something they’ll likely never forget.
  Hobbs, you know I love you and am proud to have been a resident and raise my family in this city the last seven years, but for a college-aged kid – it can be tough. Just not a lot to do.
  Plain and simple, for a college-aged kid, this town can be boring (but it’s getting better).
  So in those dorms on NMJC’s campus, these guys from different parts of not only the country, but the world, come together and become brothers. They are around each other all the time – at practice, in classes, going to get food, in the weight room and so on.
  So when this two-year experience comes to a close, it’s tough. The after-high-school, before-graduating-college portion of our life is a unique time where we are technically adults yet still have to grow up and mature (you can argue as men, we never do). These guys learned to live life away from home for the first time with each other.
  Plus, and this goes for any collegiate team, they were all working toward one common goal, and when that goal isn’t reached, it adds to the disappointment of it being the end of their time at NMJC.
  It’s difficult to let go, much like I’m sure it was for Smith to let go of that bright yellow T-Birds jersey for the last time Monday.
  But he and the rest of the team will always be Thunderbirds.