Birmingham Inducted into WJCAC Hall of Fame
1/13/2017 9:18:04 a.m. - Hobbs, NM.
[Story by Beau Bearden, Hobbs News Sun, Photo by Todd Bailey, News Sun]
When Ray Birmingham found out about his induction into the Western Junior College Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, the former New Mexico Junior College baseball coach was humbled.
That reaction was clearly evident during halftime of Thursday's NMJC men's basketball game against South Plains College as the University of New Mexico skipper received his plaque in front of packed crowd inside Caster Activity Center.
Part of that crowd also included several of Birmingham's former NMJC players and current T-Bird baseball players, all of whom gathered for the presentation.
"This is where I'm from, so it means a lot," Birmingham said of the award. "I miss this place everyday. It fits me and it's my hometown. So it means everything to me."
Adding even more meaning to the accolade is the fact former player and two-time All-American Brian Flores was there to present Birmingham with the award. Flores received a call from NMJC baseball coach Jimmy Durham and gladly accepted the offer.
"It was honor to be asked to come down here and do this," Flores said. "I still keep in contact with coach Birmingham. He's an awesome guy, a great coach and a great person. I love him to death. It's an honor to be here."
The feeling was mutual for Birmingham as he said Flores is a really special guy, a good dad and a good person. Not to mention the best pitcher in the country during the T-Birds' 2005 national title run as he was named player of the year.
Birmingham relived those memories Thursday as he donned his old Thunderbird jacket that he jokingly said still fits him. While he doesn't like to be the center of attention at ceremonies, the trip back to Hobbs gave him an opportunity to see old friends.
"I'm a big fan of seeing everybody," Birmingham said.
Returning to NMJC also brings back a number of memories of his time coaching the Thunderbirds, highlighted by the national championship. When asked about a favorite, Birmingham couldn't reflect on just one.
"It's one big thing; the national championship, the runner-up a couple of years later, being the No. 1 team in the country for three straight years," Birmingham said. "That was fun, but that was part of ending a journey. Now that I've been at UNM, UNM is almost a microcosm of what this place is for me. Starting from scratch and building and adding and we're close to getting to Omaha there."
For Flores, however, that 2005 season was one that featured a T-Bird squad that went under the radar to win it all. That didn't mean they weren't a talented group though. Flores said the 2005 T-Birds were made up of athletes from Hobbs, Albuquerque, Carlsbad and West Texas.
"That's the thing that sticks out the most, is that we were just a bunch of normal guys that were from around this area that just played the game," Flores said. "We played like we were good, we knew we were good and coach B had a lot to do with that. He instilled that confidence, kept everybody loose. We were serious, but it wasn't serious. It was just a game."
That is exactly the case for Birmingham as he continues his coaching journey at UNM. It's likely where he'll hang up his cleats, as he doesn't envision a return to NMJC to end his coaching career.
"No, I don't think so," Birmingham said. "All my kids have moved. I have thought about it (though). ... I love this place."