NMJC Names Baseball Field in Honor of Coach
6/14/2007 2:36:40 p.m. - Hobbs, NM. In a unanimous vote by the New Mexico Junior College Board on Monday, June 11, the school's baseball field was officially renamed "the Ray Birmingham Thunderbird Field."
Birmingham, who has taken the Thunderbirds to the NJCAA World Series twice in the last three years, has served as coach for the NMJC baseball team since 1988. Under his guidance, NMJC has enjoyed 14 national rankings, including five top ten rankings and a national championship in 2005. In 2007, the Thunderbirds were named runners-up at the JUCO World Series.
Birmingham has seen 114 of his players drafted in his 29 years of coaching and has sent over 200 young men on to four-year institutions, including 31 All-Americans.
Teams coached by Birmingham have compiled an overall record of 1,032-378 through a career that includes high school, American Legion, NAIA, and NJCAA baseball.
Birmingham's coaching career began at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the Trojans won the Class AAAA state championship in 1981 and had three No.1 rankings in New Mexico through 1983.
In 1984, Birmingham came to NMJC as the public relations officer and assistant basketball coach, where he helped legendary basketball coach Ron Black to three consecutive 20-win seasons and the school's first conference championship in 1987.
In 1988, Birmingham moved to College of the Southwest to guide its beginning baseball program. In 1989, the Mustangs ranked as high as 25th in the country in NAIA and won 33 games, reaching the regional finals before losing to Dallas Baptist University.
Birmingham has coached or spoken at clinics throughout the United States and South America. He has coached in the junior Olympics, Mickey Owen baseball school, Shome Baseball School, Las Vegas Baseball Academy, and spoke at the Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado high school coaches conventions. He has been published in the American Baseball Coaches Association Journal.
He has worked professionally for the Cleveland Indians, Oakland A's and Kansas City Royals. He coached the NJCAA all-star team to a 4-1 game championship over the Chinese All-Stars in Beijing, China in 2004.
In 2006, Birmingham was selected as the head coach of the NJCAA all-star team when China returned to play USA in the United States. Under Birmingham's leadership, NMJC has become known as the "hitting team" with five former players leading the country in hitting and five teams hitting over .400. In 1995, NMJC set a new NJCAA record for team hitting with a .417 avg.
In 2005, the national champs hit .411 during the regular season and .400 through regional and World Series play. In 2001, the Thunderbirds displayed one of the most impressive offensive machines in college baseball history, batting .438 as a team. In 1998, the Thunderbirds led the country in homers with 122 and in 2005 NMJC hit a record 53 triples as a team.
Despite national championships, international victories, and hall of fame numbers in wins, Birmingham is most proud of his players. Brendan Donnelly, 1990-91, won game six for the Anaheim Angels in 2002 as a closer and became the first T-Bird with a MLB World Series Championship ring. One year later, Armando Almanza, 1992-93, won a ring with World Champion Florida Marlins. In the summer of 2003, Donnelly was the winning pitcher in the MLB All-Star game in Chicago. During the next few years, Birmingham also saw Jose Flores, 1992-93, with the Oakland A's and Mike Vento, 1997, with the New York Yankees reach the MLB playoffs.
"I enjoy working with young men. There is so much untapped talent across the country and I love finding it and making it better," said Birmingham. "My assistant coaches are outstanding coaches and have shown much success in teaching pitchers how to throw harder and infielders how to be smoother. We have been very fortunate to have great coaches helping. I know winning is surrounding yourself with good people and the four assistants I have had here over the last 10 years have been awesome."
"We have everything needed for an outstanding program: warm weather, great facilities, great trainer, great educational environment, a nice ballpark, experience, and TRADITION!"