NMJC to Dedicate Birmingham Baseball Complex
1/30/2008 1:15:21 a.m. - Hobbs, NM. New Mexico Junior College President Steve McCleery has announced plans for the official dedication of the Ray Birmingham Thunderbird Baseball Complex.
According to McCleery, the dedication, which is open to the public, will be held Saturday, February 2, at 11:45 a.m., at the newly renovated NMJC baseball field. The legendary Birmingham served as the college's head coach until last year, when he was tapped by the University of New Mexico to head up the Lobo program.
Immediately following the dedication, Birmingham will throw out the first pitch in the season opener against Luna Community College at noon. Free hot dogs and cokes will be served.
Birmingham, who began his NMJC coaching career in 1988, led the Thunderbirds to 14 national rankings, including five top ten rankings and a JUCO World Series Championship in 2005. In 2007, the Thunderbirds were named national runners-up at the Series.
In his career at NMJC, Birmingham saw 114 of his players drafted in his 29 years of coaching and sent over 200 young men on to four-year colleges and universities, including 31 All-Americans. By the Spring 2007 season, teams coached by Birmingham had compiled an overall record of 1,032-378 in a career that included high school, American Legion, NAIA, and NJCAA baseball.
His 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 head coach Ron Black to three consecutive 20-win seasons and the school's first conference championship in 1987. The following year, Birmingham guided College of the Southwest's fledgling baseball program.
During his tenure at NMJC, Birmingham coached or spoke at clinics throughout the United States and South America, coached in the Junior Olympics, Mickey Owen baseball program, Shome Baseball School, Las Vegas Baseball Academy, and spoke at the Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado high school coaches' conventions. He has also been published in the American Baseball Coaches Association Journal.
He has also 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 the USA team 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 home runs with 122, and in 2005 NMJC hit a record 53 triples as a team.
Although he earned national championships and international victories and garnered numerous hall of fame mentions, Birmingham was always 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 Major League Baseball 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.
Prior to leaving for his position coaching the UNM Lobos, Birmingham modestly summarized the Thunderbirds' winning formula: "We have everything needed for an outstanding program: warm weather, great facilities, great trainer, great educational environment, a nice ballpark, experience, and tradition."
As for the experience and tradition parts of the formula, well, NMJC certainly has Birmingham to thank for those.