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Eldorado baseball team coming to grips with teammate’s death

 

With no road map on how to navigate, the Eldorado High School baseball team on Wednesday began the long and arduous process of trying to proceed with their season.

“They’ve begun looking for their new normal,” Eagles coach Reid Figiel said. “They understand it will be hard to find.”

Two days after the unexpected death of teammate Blake Thies, the Eagles had a lengthy and emotional team meeting, followed by a therapeutic game of mushball.

“We’re definitely feeling sad as a team,” senior Davis Nolan said. “What’s helping us the most is being together. It definitely put a smile on my face.”

Thies, a sophomore, was found dead in his home on Monday morning. It was a loss that struck Eldorado’s campus extremely hard and left many around the metro area at other schools stunned and dumbfounded. The Albuquerque Isotopes on Tuesday night held a moment of silence prior to their season opener, in part to honor Thies.

Now the task facing Eldorado’s baseball team, and its 31-year-old head coach, Figiel, is to process Thies’ death as best they can, even without a proper grieving protocol, and to find a way to move forward and complete the season while simultaneously paying tribute to Thies.

Blake Thies

“The way to do it is to never forget, never forget the impact he had on all of us,” said junior Cade Malone.

Eldorado didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday — or Wednesday. The Eagles were supposed to play Highland on Wednesday, a game that will likely be rescheduled. Eldorado will return to the diamond on Saturday afternoon at home with a 1 p.m. doubleheader against Manzano. Their first official practice this week will occur today.

The Eagles will wear “BT” decals in honor of Thies for the remainder of the season, Figiel said.

Wednesday, the team was together en masse on the field for the first time since the tragedy.

“I think it’s good to take your mind off it,” said Eagles junior Tucker Franco. “And be with the people you really love.”

Figiel, in just his second season as Eldorado’s head coach, said he shared a very special bond with Thies, a sophomore right fielder. And even with grief counselors having been to the school earlier in the week, Figiel is encouraging his players to lean on each other throughout this emotionally trying period.

“Blake was a well-known guy,” Figiel said. “I’ve never seen a school break down like it did (Monday). He touched a lot of people.”

Thies’ parents had an open house on Tuesday afternoon for those wanting to pay their respects, and all of Eldorado’s players did so, Figiel said.

The family declined a Journal interview request, but his parents, Blake and Christina, did release a statement on Wednesday.

“Our family is beyond grateful for the support of our extended family, friends, and the community. Although we do not have answers, and we may never have them nor ever understand this, the flood of support from this community has been incredible and unbelievable.

“As this tragedy unwraps we are realizing the impact our Blake had on his friends, and this impact is reaching far beyond our Eldorado family, greater than anything we could imagine. The effect that Blake had on people, and the recognition of the community of this issue, gives us hope that maybe he can make a difference to others that are suffering.

“As we thank everyone for their support of our family and the compassion that is being displayed, we wish that you continue with keeping Blake in your heart. Please honor him with your kindness to others, and remember our son for what he was in his life rather than how it ended too early.”

Figiel said he gave his team the option of going through some normal baseball practice routines Wednesday, or play some mushball and try to lighten the somber mood, if only for a short while.

“This worked out the best,” Figiel said. “I hadn’t seen a whole lot of smiles the last two days. I saw a whole lot of hugs and smiles today.”

There is a memorial service for Thies at 10 a.m. Friday at the Believers Center in the Northeast Heights near Tramway and Interstate 40. That will be followed by a private burial.

On Tuesday, the baseball program is having a fundraising dinner for the family at 6 p.m. in Eldorado’s cafeteria, according to Figiel. By 1 p.m. Saturday, however, it will be time to return to baseball.

“I think they know that Blake would want them to play,” Figiel said. “We’ve talked about it. Our ultimate goal is to play with passion and play for fun. Whether we go on a tear or whether we crumble, they’re going to have grown as men.”

Thies’ locker — he was nicknamed “Black Thighs” — will remain intact for the time being.

How the Eagles react come Saturday is anyone’s guess. Figiel said Thies had a burning passion for baseball, saying he ran the bases like Pete Rose. Even as a 10th-grader, he earned the admiration and love of his older teammates, who said Thies was an immensely jovial, likable teammate.

“He brought the life to the locker room every day,” junior Max Molina said.

And the Eagles now plan to reciprocate, inasmuch as they can.

“Everything we do now as a team is for that kid,” Nolan said. “Blake was a super popular kid, but I don’t think anyone will understand what it was like to be his teammate. He was our little brother.”

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