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Late Isidro Rubi starred for, and loved, the Lobos

As Isidro Rubi’s cancer closed in, the former New Mexico Lobos’ middle infielder was determined to be around for UNM’s 2017 baseball opener.

He was. The Lobos opened the season Feb. 17 with an 8-4 victory over Binghamton at Santa Ana Star Field.

Rubi, a superb all-around athlete throughout his life, died the following day. He was 77.

“He died with a Lobo shirt on,” said his daughter, Laura Harris. “… The plan was to get him to the game that day, and he didn’t make it. But he did make it to the baseball season.”

Marty Saiz, right, president of the N.M. Sports Hall of Fame, deeply valued the contributions of Isidro Rubi. (Courtesy of Marty Saiz)

Marty Saiz, right, president of the N.M. Sports Hall of Fame, deeply valued the contributions of Isidro Rubi. (Courtesy of Marty Saiz)

Isidro Rubi Jr. was born in Pajarito, a village long since swallowed up by expansion of Albuquerque’s South Valley. A four-sport star at St. Mary’s High School (football, basketball, baseball and track), he came to UNM in 1959. He led the Lobos in hitting in 1961 (.387) and ’62 (.315).

Rubi’s love for UNM athletics, Harris said, never abated.

“He was Mr. Lobo,” she said. “He loved the Lobos.”

Rubi and his wife, Janice, Harris said, had UNM season football and basketball tickets for some 50 years. Even while living for a time in Phoenix and Boulder, Colo., Rubi never gave up those seats.

He and his wife returned to Albuquerque in 1996 after his retirement as director of the Minority Engineering Program at the University of Colorado. Earlier, Rubi worked for Mountain Bell/US West in Albuquerque and Phoenix for some 26 years.

“He loved sports, but he greatly valued education,” Harris said.

The past three years, Rubi was a member of the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame Board. Marty Saiz, board president, admitted he had no idea who Rubi was when he was recommended as a member. But Saiz soon became a friend and an admirer.

“Whatever he did, he did it with passion,” Saiz said.

Last spring, Saiz said, Rubi — already in the throes of his cancer — was determined to present UNM baseball coach and 2016 inductee Ray Birmingham with his portrait at the annual banquet. But Rubi had been in the hospital that weekend.

“He calls me and says, ‘Marty, I’m just going to go to the reception. That’s it.'”

When Rubi didn’t appear at the reception, Saiz feared the worst. “But all of a sudden, before the banquet starts, he gets wheeled in in a wheelchair.”

As planned, Rubi presented Birmingham with his portrait.

As a Lobo, Rubi’s finest moment might have been his game-winning triple in a 4-3 Skyline Conference victory over Wyoming in 1962. Or maybe it was when he was the only Lobo to reach base against Los Angeles Dodgers pitching during an exhibition game the following spring; Rubi was plunked with a Don Drysdale fastball in the first inning and drew a walk in the third.

Even after his UNM playing career, Rubi’s name continued to pop up in the pages of the Albuquerque Journal.

■ March 1970: Rubi bowls a scratch series of 572.

■ October 1979: Coach Rubi’s Young America Football League Giants play to a tie with the Bears for the YAFL heavyweight championship. Rubi coached in YAFL for 14 seasons, compiling a 97-10-4 record.

■ July 1983: Rubi, described as having a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, a master’s in communication and more than 20 years of managerial experience, is engaged to lead a seminar — “New Age Thinking for Achieving Your Potential” — at UNM.

■ February 2014: Rubi shoots his age — 74 — at an Albuquerque golf course.

“Throughout his cancer, he still played golf,” Harris said. “Jay Peters and Steve Sanchez would take him out on the course. … They’d drive him up to the green and they’d put his ball on the tee for him. They did that all through the fall for him.”

Her father was so competitive, she said, that he filed with Sun Country Golf Association for a higher handicap to compensate for his illness.

“I was like, ‘Dad, what did you do, play the cancer card to get a better handicap?’ But he didn’t look it that way. He was just trying to play competitively.

“He’s going to be missed. He was a good guy, always had a clean joke to share.”