Emotions remained raw at the University of New Mexico athletic department Monday as student-athletes, coaches and administrators struggled to cope with the death of baseball player Jackson Weller.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez, baseball coach Ray Birmingham and sophomore outfielder Brayden Merritt spoke at a media conference, sharing memories of Weller and his impact on baseball players and coaches. Weller, 23, was fatally shot early Saturday morning in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill area and the loss hit those who knew him hard.
“Jackson Weller was one of the classiest kids I’ve ever coached,” Birmingham said, pausing to wipe away tears as his voice cracked with emotion. “It’s the first time in 42 years I’ve lost a player on my watch.”
Nuñez declined to discuss details of Weller’s death, gun violence in Albuquerque or its potential impact on UNM athletics and recruiting. He called the shooting “a senseless act of violence,” but cited the ongoing investigation of Saturday’s incident and said UNM is cooperating with authorities.
“We understand what’s going on in the city,” Nuñez said, “but this is not the time for those discussions. Today is an opportunity to speak about Jackson Weller and how much he meant to our baseball team and the community.”
Weller was in his first year at UNM after transferring from Arizona’s Gateway Community College. A native of Keller, Texas, Weller played summer baseball with the Farmington Frackers and participated in the Lobos’ fall practice season. The right-handed pitcher then underwent surgery to address restricted blood flow to his pitching arm. He was not part of this season’s active roster but intended to return to action next fall, Birmingham said.
“He was a fierce competitor and he stayed upbeat and positive through surgery and rehab,” Birmingham said. “Off the field, though, he was the kindest, most respectful young man you’ve ever met. Jackson lit up a room when he came in.”
Merritt recalled Weller going far out of his way to support his teammates despite being unable to play this season.
“He didn’t have to be at games because he was injured,” Merritt said, “but he was at every single one, cheering us on. We started the season in Arizona and Jackson drove out there to be front and center. That’s just who he was. I never saw that kid mad.”
Nuñez, Birmingham and the rest of the Lobos held a private memorial Sunday morning at the team’s clubhouse facility. Weller’s father, Pat, traveled from Texas to attend.
“It went on for quite some time and it was very moving,” Birmingham said. “A lot of our players got up and spoke, told stories about Jackson. It gave his father a chance to hear how special his son was and what he meant to the team and our Lobo community.”
Nuñez said staff counselors were made available Saturday through Monday to baseball players and other student-athletes impacted by Weller’s death. Merritt said the team has pulled together since news of the shooting came out.
“We’re still trying to make sense of it,” Merritt said, “but we’ve all been together the last 48 hours to support each other. It’s been tough.”
Several baseball players attended Monday’s media conference and they exchanged hugs and handshakes with other attendees as they filed out of Dreamstyle Arena’s Pete McDavid Lounge. Weller’s funeral is scheduled for May 13 in Texas. Birmingham said he and several UNM players will attend.
The Lobos postponed home games against Air Force on Saturday and Sunday after learning of Weller’s death. They will return to action Friday, hosting UNLV in the season’s final home series, and Merritt said Weller will be on everyone’s minds.
“The rest of the season is dedicated to him,” Merritt said, “the rest of our lives are dedicated to him. But this is bigger than the game of baseball. We lost a family member.”
NOTE: Weller’s funeral is scheduled for May 13 at 1 p.m. at the Good Shepard Catholic Church in Colleyville, Texas. His family requests any donations be made through the Children’s Cancer Fund of New Mexico. Online giving is available at www.ccfnm.org.