One week ago, Ray Birmingham ceremoniously – and fittingly – donned a cowboy hat and rode off on horseback into the sunset after a 43-year baseball coaching career around New Mexico, most recently as the head coach of the UNM Lobos.
Saturday night, he was already back teaching the game.
Prior to the 65-year-old Birmingham being honored at Isotopes Park with a throwing of the first pitch and an emotional video tribute to his four-plus decades of coaching around the state, he joined the Journal on a pre-game video call with 36-year-old Albuquerque Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer.
“Tommy Lasorda and Bill Virdon told me a long time ago it’s a people business,” Birmingham said when Schaeffer asked what the key to longevity in the sport is. “Don’t forget it.”
He said he’s already a big fan of the young Triple-A manager, whose Albuquerque Isotopes beat visiting Las Vegas 5-3 in front of an announced of 7,145 fans.
“You’re a good manager or you wouldn’t be where you’re at,” Birmingham told Schaeffer.
The two managers shared their love for “hard-nosed” baseball, common bonds and love of the game.
Both acknowledged baseball has become more of a challenge getting young players to buy in to a common, team-first goal. But neither has lost hope for the future of the game.
“Ray said that things change and kids (have) changed these days,” Schaeffer said. “But baseball stays the same, man. And I can learn a ton – I have learned a ton from guys Ray’s age growing up in this organization.
“A lot of the good stuff of the game is being lost, in my opinion. A lot of that hard-nose – just knowing how to win is kind of going by the wayside a little bit. But that’s stuff that you can learn from the old-timers, there’s no doubt about. I hate to call you an old-timer, Ray, but you know what I mean?”
Birmingham fired back, “I am an old-timer, so go ahead, let ‘er rip.”
Schaeffer has already shown as a manager the same sort of intensity and fire from his playing days at Virginia Tech and in six minor league seasons that started when he was drafted in the 32nd round by the Rockies in 2007.
That same year, the Rockies also drafted a catcher in the ninth round out of UNM named Jordan Pacheco – someone Birmingham thinks very highly of and someone Schaeffer grew to become close with as the two developed in the Rockies organizations.
“His best friend is Jordan Pacheco, and Jordan Pacheco is a hard-nosed fighter,” Birmingham said when asked if he would have liked to coach a guy like Schaeffer. “He’ll get after you. He wants to win and the bottom line is winning.”
Added Schaeffer, “I think he’d want my attitude on his team, but he wouldn’t want my bat in the order, that’s for sure.”
“We would have fixed it,” Birmingham said.
THAT FIRST PITCH: While Birmingham fired strikes for ceremonial first pitches in recent weeks in Colorado Springs and San Jose, California, on his retirement tour around the Mountain West Conference, Saturday’s pitch sailed high, but with some circumstances worth noting.
First was the rain delay of 1 hours, 3 minutes between warming up and the pitch itself. Second was the surprise catcher Birmingham didn’t know was coming until he turned back toward home plate after watching an emotional video on the scoreboard beyond the left-field wall.
It was Manzano grad, ex-Lobo and ex-Isotope Brian Cavazos-Galvez.
“I had no idea he was going to be there,” Birmingham said. “He’s like a son to me.”
HE SAID IT: Of his retirement, Birmingham said he has some making up on lost time to do with his family, but baseball is hardly out of the picture.
“Baseball is a good drug and I’m an addict,” Birmingham said. “… but I’ve got grandkids and sons and a wife who’ve been at home by themselves while I’ve been across the country and I gotta hurry and pay them back for being gone. I gotta fix the dishwasher.”
‘TOPES SUNDAY: Vs. Las Vegas
6:05 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM, abqisotopes.com
PROMOTION: Insulated lunch bags giveaway
PROBABLES: Aviators RHP Grant Holmes (0-1, 11.07) vs. Isotopes RHP Brandon Gold (1-2, 6.10)
SATURDAY: 2B Rio Ruiz broke a tie game with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Isotopes bullpen was impressive again in a 5-3 win over visiting Las Vegas in front of an announced fireworks night crowd of 7,145. (Click Here For Box Score.)
TRANSACTIONS: Colorado called up LHPs Ben Bowden and Lucas Gilbreath from Albuquerque.