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Birmingham Leaving NMJC, Headed for UNM

Birmingham Leaving NMJC, Headed for UNM photo 6/20/2007 5:06:00 p.m. - Hobbs, NM. "A legend is gone" are words that are never welcomed, but it is the phrase soon to be heard at New Mexico Junior College as head baseball coach Ray Birmingham has resigned his post at NMJC to become the head baseball coach for the University of New Mexico.

Come July 1, Birmingham will trade the Thunderbird logo that he's known for 22 years for a Lobo one. Birmingham has been the only coach the NMJC baseball dynasty has ever known. "I'm sad, and I'm glad. This [program] is my baby," expressed Birmingham about his upcoming transition.

In his last season at NMJC, Birmingham added some notable highlights, including his 1,000th career win, JUCO World Series runner-up, and the NMJC baseball field being named in his honor, to his list of honors. During his tenure at NMJC, he has seen 115 of his players drafted, sent over 200 young men on to four-year institutions, coached 31 All-Americans, seen national rankings 14 times, a national championship in 2005, and the current national champion runners-up, leaving NMJC's baseball record at 817-328.

You ask "Coach B" what his biggest accomplishment was during his tenure at NMJC and he won't mention those listed above. Instead he will tell you, "Helping over 2,000 kids through life who needed help growing up."

"I'm excited about the new opportunity in front of me. There is a new attitude that is very progressive [at UNM]. I've always been about challenges, and it will be a big challenge to turn things around," explained Birmingham.

In Birmingham's 30 years of coaching, he has compiled an overall record of 1,032-378 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.

Birmingham has three sons: Josh, 27, a former NCAA World Series participant with Nebraska University and currently taking the Bar Exam for New Mexico and Texas; Bryan, 25, a golf professional at San Angelo (Texas) Country Club; and Nicholas, 7, a high-energy elementary student in Decatur, TX.

Birmingham describes his fondest memories in Hobbs as "the people, students, and individuals I've worked with in the community and county."

Even though legends are never replaceable, Birmingham's legacy will always remain at NMJC. Perhaps NMJC President Steve McCleery says it best: "Ray has done an outstanding job for the last 18 years at NMJC. He has won more conference titles, more regional titles, a national championship, and the national championship runner-up; we've been blessed by his presence. I'm elated for Ray realizing one of his dreams. We are sad for NMJC, but Ray will do great things for UNM."

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