Felix F. Chávez , El Paso Times
The New Mexico Junior College baseball team, located in Hobbs, New Mexico, is headed to the NJCAA Division I World Series with the help of several El Pasoans.
Former Americas outfielders Joaquin Ballesteros and Adrian Torres and former Montwood pitcher Anthony Chavez have been key figures on the team this season, while former Eastwood player Kevin Cox is listed on the roster as a catcher and redshirted this year. Outfielder Carlos Contreras began his high school career at Eastwood before moving to Austin, former Faith Christian pitcher Alan Calzada got into three games this season and Lauro Felix is an assistant coach for the Thunderbirds. Contreras has also been a key player on this year's team.
Joaquin Ballesteros (Photo: Courtesy)
Felix was a standout baseball player at Socorro High School and later played professional baseball in the United States and Mexico for several years.
The Thunderbirds (42-15) won the NJCAA Region V Tournament in San Angelo with a 14-11 win vs. McLennan Junior College. NMSU was seeded No. 2 out of the Western Junior College Athletic Conference.
Adrian Torres (Photo: Courtesy)
"It's been a great feeling for me as a coach and seeing our team do what it has," Felix said. "During the course of the past month, our team really matured and really improved. I've experienced championships as a player but as a coach this feels different. I really feel great for the El Paso kids and what they have accomplished."
The national tournament begins May 25 at Sam Suplizio Field and runs through June 1.
Ballesteros is hitting .302 with 10 RBIs on the season, Torres has 11 homers, 46 RBIs and 58 runs scored, Chavez owns a win and 13 strikeouts in 13 appearances and Contreras has seven homers and 48 RBIs.
Felix was credited with a lot of the team's success by both Ballesteros and Torres.
"Coach Felix has been a mentor to me," Ballesteros said. "He's been a great help to myself and to others on this team. We wouldn't be going to Grand Junction without coach Felix."
Anthony Chavez (Photo: Courtesy)
Added Torres: "Coach Felix is a great coach and a great friend to us. He wants nothing but the best for us. He is a great teacher of the game and he works hard at what he does."
In the win against McLennan, Ballesteros made a great catch in the outfield, which helped secure the win for the Thunderbirds.
"Joaquin's catch was one of the best I've ever seen," Felix said. "He went all out to make the catch and it potentially saved three runs from scoring and keep the momentum with us. Joaquin has battled so hard this season for us and it's great to see him doing well. He had some ups and downs with playing time and had to deal with that mentally but he stayed tough and is doing great things for us."
Torres said a turning point in the season came late in the regular season when the team won a crucial game vs. Odessa JC, which helped them seal the No. 2 seed in the regional tournament.
Lauro Felix (Photo: Courtesy)
"We needed that game versus Odessa and it was a game where we came together and really became a team," Torres said. "It was a big moment for us and we've grown so much. We had some ups and downs during the season but we are playing well right now and we feel confident going into the national tournament."
New Mexico Junior College is no stranger to the NJCAA World Series. The Thunderbirds won the national title in 2005 and finished second in 2007.
"This is a great opportunity for all of us on this team," Chavez said. "It's great to see those of us with El Paso connections doing well and it shows we have good players from our hometown. It gives us a chance to represent El Paso on a national level and do something positive. All of us have contributed in some way. I feel like I've grown a great deal in the time I've been here at New Mexico Junior College and our goal is to win it all."