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Monday, December 22, 2014

Baseball: Coach Birmingham has history of victory

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By Thomas Romero-Salas / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM head coach Ray Birmingham watches his team from the dugout on Feb. 21. Birmingham has built four baseball programs across the state.

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Building baseball programs from the ground up is nothing new to Ray Birmingham. After all, he’s been doing it for most of his adult life.

Birmingham has built four programs throughout the Land of Enchantment during his 27 year career: Mayfield High School, College of the Southwest, New Mexico Junior College and now UNM.

Each stop has been much the same for Birmingham.

“It’s been very fun. I’ve had a blast,” he said. “It’s been pretty much along the same lines when I came to UNM. I had to build a baseball field, I had to raise money, I had to get uniforms, I had to recruit and I had to build a fan base.”

Birmingham said he’s had opportunities to go to other programs that already have everything needed for a Division I program.

“It’s been rewarding. It’s something that I kind of like to do,” he said. “I’ve stayed because I have a loyalty to the state of New Mexico.”

Birmingham is native New Mexican. Originally from Hobbs, he attended Hobbs High School and graduated from New Mexico State in 1978.

“I know everybody in the state; I’ve probably coached a kid from every community in this state at some point in time,” Birmingham said. “I’ve interacted with the state my whole life. I want to give it something to be proud of.”

Yet Birmingham said he still has a ways to go with the program, specifically with the team’s venue. Birmingham led the charge for the $3.25 million remodeling of Lobo Field, which included a new turf field, bleachers, dugouts, press box and lights that were installed this past fall.

Even with all the renovations, Lobo Field doesn’t yet have running water or a bathroom. The University does intend to add concession areas, a new press area, more bleachers and a permanent locker room, according to a press release from UNM Athletics.

“We’re the number-one team in the Mountain West, but we’re last in the facilities,” Birmingham said. “Once we get a facility that’s respectable — besides those porta-potties we got out there — I think once we get the state government or the school or somebody to give us the money to build a stadium that’s respectable, we’ll go to Omaha and win it (the College World Series). Everything else is in place.”

The Lobos have been perennial contenders in the Mountain West since Birmingham took over the program in 2008.

Through his first six years as head coach, Birmingham has won more games (203) than any other coach in UNM’s history. He has also guided the Lobos to four of the six winningest seasons (2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013) in program history.

“I attribute Birmingham’s success to his expectations of us, not only on the field but off the field,” senior pitcher Josh Walker said. “I think, in turn, that produces success for him and the program.”