Andre Vigil and Jered Meek are used to chasing the same prizes.
Friends, rivals and now University of New Mexico baseball teammates, Vigil and Meek have taken turns one-upping each other in recent years. They’re at it again, battling for the starting third base spot as the Lobos’ 2014 opener fast approaches.
The position showdown has its share of interesting plot twists.
Vigil, a freshman from Volcano Vista High School, was New Mexico’s Class 5A Player of the Year last season. Meek, a sophomore from Carlsbad, won the award in 2012.
Good as they were, neither player exactly came up as a third baseman. Vigil played second base, Meek shortstop, and both pitched during their prep careers.
Meek picked up some third base experience in club ball before filling in at the position occasionally last year.
Vigil’s previous experience at third?
“None whatsoever,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a hot spot over there, but it’s really just about manning up. Set your feet and take balls off your chest, your arms, your face, whatever it takes.”
Third base is one of the few positions up for grabs at UNM this season. D.J. Peterson and Alex Allbritton handled most of the action there in 2013 and both have since moved on to professional baseball.
Vigil, Meek and freshman Jack Zoellner, a prep first baseman from Arizona, are working to make the transition to third base as quickly as possible. Vigil currently holds the edge as a hitter, Meek is strongest defensively, and Zoellner ranks somewhere in between.
Lobo coach Ray Birmingham knows his young third base candidates have a tough act to follow.
“They’re replacing Alex Allbritton,” Birmingham said, “who is a great defensive player. It’s not easy, but we’re not lowering the bar, either. Third base is one part of the field where we need an answer, and these guys need to seize the opportunity. It’s a gut check.”
With UNM set to open the season Feb. 14 at San Diego, Birmingham has only a few more days to decide on a starter. Regardless of the eventual winner, the Lobo coach is getting a kick out of watching two former state players of the year square off.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Birmingham said. “No matter how this battle shakes out, I think these two will be Lobo greats before they’re done.”
UNM’s third base battle is just the latest quest for bragging rights between Vigil and Meek.
Round 1 went to Vigil. In 2011 the then-sophomore hit a home run and helped Volcano Vista defeat Carlsbad (and Meek) in a state quarterfinal at Isotopes Park.
Meek took Round 2 a season later. As a senior in 2012, Meek led the Cavemen to a state championship, while Volcano Vista was knocked out in the semifinals.
“Andre lets me hear about that (2011) quarterfinal a little bit,” Meek said, “but I’ve got a ring.”
Vigil and Meek became teammates in the summer of 2012, playing travel ball for Albuquerque Baseball Academy. The former rivals quickly became friends and looked forward to playing together as Lobos.
Meek got his feet wet last season, appearing in 14 games with one start. It wasn’t easy duty for a freshman trying to fill in on a veteran team.
“Playing so rarely was tough, but you take it for what it is,” Meek said. “It was pretty awesome watching guys like D.J. Peterson, (Mitch) Garver and Sam Wolff play every day. It was the best team I’ve ever been around.”
Meek, who throws right-handed but hits lefty, hit .235 in limited action but feels the games he played at third base will pay dividends this year.
Vigil admits he’s still trying to get comfortable at third, but the pop in the right-hander’s bat figures to earn him playing time somewhere on the diamond. Vigil owns New Mexico’s career prep home run record, though Birmingham has asked both him and Meek to shorten their swings in college.
“They were both power hitters in high school,” Birmingham said, “but they’re playing in big-boy ballparks now. They’ll hit a few home runs, sure, but we need them hitting line drives and getting on base. They’re adjusting.”
While both players clearly want to win the starting job, Vigil and Meek say there will be no hard feelings either way.
“We’re best friends off the field,” Vigil said, “and we both want to win. Whatever the outcome (at third base), I’ll be working just as hard. I’ll find some way to benefit the team.”
Added Meek: “Andre can really hit, and he’s going to help this team. I feel like we both bring things to the table, and we’ll have our opportunities no matter who starts at third. May the best player win.”