Baseball took a back seat at the University of New Mexico on Saturday.
The final two games of the Lobos’ three-game series against visiting Air Force were postponed Saturday morning after junior Jackson Weller, a member of UNM’s extended roster, was fatally shot early Saturday in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill area.
Weller, a right-handed pitcher from Keller, Texas, never appeared in a game for the Lobos. A junior-college transfer from Arizona’s Gateway Community College, Weller was injured while participating in the team’s 2018 fall camp and was expected to return to action this fall.
Weller’s death came just hours after Air Force edged UNM 5-4 in the Mountain West series opener. The news hit people around the city and state hard, especially at the university’s south campus.
“The loss of Jackson Weller is devastating to the entire Lobo family,” UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said in a statement. “He was a very special young man whose absence will be deeply felt. On behalf of Lobo Athletics and The University of New Mexico, I would like to extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends, teammates and all who knew him – please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. Our immediate focus will be on continuing to support all who are affected as they cope with this senseless tragedy.”
UNM’s athletic department limited its response to Nuñez’s statement and did not make coaches or teammates available for comment Saturday. But Weller and several UNM teammates also played summer ball for the Farmington Frackers in 2018, and Frackers general manager Mike Diamond had nothing but praise for Weller.
“He was still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery when he got here,” Diamond said, “which is no fun for anyone. But Jackson was always super nice and positive. He loved baseball. He was the hardest-working kid on our team and, by the end of the summer, probably our best pitcher. It’s terrible that something like this happened.”
UNM baseball coach Ray Birmingham declined direct comment but confirmed his team held an emotional meeting Saturday morning and that grief counselors were made available to players through today.
Support came from all corners after Nuñez’s statement was released on social media. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Mayor Tim Keller, the Albuquerque Isotopes, New Mexico United, Jackson Wink Academy and the Mountain West Conference were among the many publicly expressing condolences to Weller’s family and UNM’s athletic family and anger over the 23-year-old’s senseless death.
Air Force baseball coach Mike Kazlausky sent a wreath of flowers with a condolence letter and AFA medalion that stood inside UNM’s baseball clubhouse Saturday beside a Lobo jersey bearing Weller’s name and uniform No. 1.
The decision to postpone both Saturday’s and today’s games was announced just before noon, and a small sign was posted outside Santa Ana Star Field directing fans to UNM’s athletic webite for an explanation of the cancellations.
While the weekend’s games paled in significance compared to Saturday’s events, both could be made up during the regular season’s final two weeks. UNM (8-13-1 Mountain West) and Air Force (10-13) remain in the hunt for a berth in the league’s four-team postseason tournament.
A decision on whether to reschedule the games will likely be made within a week, a UNM media relations spokesperson said.