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Lobos baseball clinic in Santa Fe to promote academics and athletics

Lobo baseball coach Ray Birmingham, left, works with 11-year-old Ronnie Montoya of Santa Fe during a baseball camp held at the UNM Lobos baseball field. Looking on are Cristofer Graham, Troy Ettenson and Andres Alvarado, all of Santa Fe. The Lobos are bringing a similar camp to Fort Marcy Park next week. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Lobo baseball coach Ray Birmingham, left, works with 11-year-old Ronnie Montoya of Santa Fe during a baseball camp held at the UNM Lobos baseball field. Looking on are Cristofer Graham, Troy Ettenson and Andres Alvarado, all of Santa Fe. The Lobos are bringing a similar camp to Fort Marcy Park next week. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Santa Fe and other cities in the northern region represent a huge land of opportunity for the University of New Mexico athletics department.

And while opportunity has largely gone untapped, Lobos coaches are starting to pay more attention to the area, with the men’s soccer team this past weekend holding a youth camp in Taos and, next week, the baseball team conducting a two-day clinic at Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park.

Lobos baseball has already been to such far-flung outposts as Artesia, Farmington, Hobbs and Roswell.

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“We haven’t been to Santa Fe,” said coach Ray Birmingham. “That’s the easiest one to do and I don’t know why we haven’t done it. But we’re attempting to bring the Santa Fe community into UNM athletics and promote baseball in front of the kids.”

While this is the first foray into the north for Lobos baseball, Birmingham said it certainly is not the last.

The idea is to make the clinic an annual event.

And the team would like to stage a fall exhibition game at Fort Marcy, which thus far has been the top draw in the Pecos Baseball League.

“We want Lobos baseball to put its arms around Santa Fe and welcome them into Lobos athletics,” Birmingham said.

The golf program has had outings at Las Campanas and there’s a strong following for the men’s basketball team, which is not surprising given the area’s affinity for the sport, said New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs.

But the program has to do a better job of engaging the communities of northern New Mexico, he admitted.

“We need to do more of it, and we need to continue to do more and find opportunities that make sense,” Krebs said. “It’s a market where we don’t have as strong a presence as we should, and hopefully we can create more activity and more friends for our program, and the result will be more people coming to the games and supporting the university.”

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The baseball clinic came about thanks to local businessman Rob Ettenson, owner and publisher of Inside Santa Fe Magazine.

He also coaches a youth team, using two local high school students as his assistants. He asked one of those high school students how classes were going.

“It ain’t happening, coach,” Ettson said the player told him.

And that caused to Ettson to think about how to get local athletes more engaged in the academic side of the equation.

“I realized that I had to do something,” he said. “He was just one of thousands of kids in northern New Mexico that don’t aspire to go to college.”

He found a willing ally in Birmingham, who agreed a large component of the clinic should be the importance of school, staying in school and thinking ahead to college.

“I see this as more about promoting academics through athletics as opposed to promoting baseball,” Ettson said. “I want them to spend time with Lobos student athletes. The players I’ve met on the Lobos baseball team are high-character individuals. In addition to being really good baseball players, they are men of high character. So to have the light go on for even just one kid, that it’s not only about baseball, it’s about academics and baseball, that would make it worthwhile.”

And, bottom line, that’s what it’s all about, Krebs said.

“That’s a great message to the young people,” he said. “The young men in our program are doing a great job of juggling school and athletics, and if they can get that message across, then it’s a great thing for the entire state.”

And Birmingham expects to deliver that message through a hearty handshake.

“This is about making a community larger,” he said. “This is about involving UNM with Santa Fe, the community of Santa Fe and the people of Santa Fe. It’s a reaching out. I’m extending my right hand and saying ‘Hello.’ That’s what I’m doing.”

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