ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Birmingham Was His Coach 1 Season
Growing up, Adalberto Santos was a fan of the New York Yankees, a team with 27 World Series titles.
Now the Bronx, N.Y., native plays for the Altoona (Pa.) Curve, the Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1992.
The stark contrast between the two teams is nothing new for Santos, who left the densely populated Bronx after graduating from James Monroe High School and during his journey to Altoona, made a pit stop in the heart of southeast New Mexico’s oil country.
After a year at Louisburg Junior College in North Carolina, Santos reunited with some former friends bound for Hobbs and New Mexico Junior College.
“A couple of my high school teammates from back in the Bronx were at New Mexico Junior College,” Santos, 24, said. “I wanted to transfer out, and I talked to my head coach and I went over there.”
Among those teammates was Danny Almonte, the former Little League star at the center of an age-related scandal in 2001.
With Almonte’s help, then-NMJC coach Ray Birmingham found himself quite a player.
Santos played just one season at NMJC, but what a season it was.
In 2007, Santos led the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I with a .528 batting average and was named first team All-American.
“He walked on at New Mexico Junior College because he wanted to learn how to hit,” Birmingham said. “… He had the tough, blue-collar attitude that I liked, and he went to work.”
Without a doubt, that attitude eased Santos’ transition from one of New York City’s five boroughs to small-town Hobbs.
“It’s a small town but it was fun,” Santos said. “It was a good experience, great times, great friends who I still keep in contact with.
“It was a lot different, but I was there for one thing and one thing only and that was baseball. That doesn’t really change. We had a good bond and a good team. We pretty much always hung out together and did everything together and enjoyed it. We had a great year, and it was fun.”
That season, which was Birmingham’s last in Hobbs before taking over the University of New Mexico’s baseball program, Santos led the Thunderbirds to a 46-8 record and a spot in the national championship game.
After a loss in the title game, Santos and Birmingham headed their separate ways, but the two have managed to stay in touch.
“The head coach from Oregon State was calling down here to see if we had any players,” Santos said. “(Birmingham) told him about me, and I ended up going to Oregon State and playing two years there. Coach Birmingham, I owe a lot to him. We still talk; he’s a great guy.”
Santos, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2010 first-year player draft out of Oregon State, is hitting a blistering .383, with a .977 OPS — Santos would lead the Eastern League in both categories if he had enough at-bats to qualify — in 45 games in Double-A.
And with the Pirates on the verge of their first winning season since he was 5 years old, Santos is hoping to get a chance to help the team in the near future.
“All the times I was watching the Yankees win, I wasn’t doing anything to contribute,” Santos said. “I have a chance now to hopefully make it up to Pittsburgh and contribute to a winning team.”
— This article appeared on page D7 of the Albuquerque Journal