They’re sons of Northern New Mexico and can happily trace their formative years to the basketball free-for-all that is Española, but ask the Torres brothers what they prefer most, and they’ll tell you it has more to do with dirt stains and running the bases than it does hearing squeaky sneakers on hardwood.
They’re both living out that dream at Santa Fe Indian School. Older brother Oliver is the Lady Braves’ softball coach while Jude, three years younger, is the head coach of the Braves’ baseball program.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the pair has SFIS primed and ready for what they hope will be a deep run into their respective state tournaments.
“We’re just as good as anyone else out there, so my message to the guys is, ‘We can do this, we can win the whole thing,’ ” Jude Torres said. “We have just as much talent as the best teams out there. We just need to believe.”
Believe. That’s the one thing the siblings have worked hardest to instill in their players since Jude Torres took over the SFIS baseball program in 2017 and Oliver Torres was hired for softball a year later. The work each has done behind the scenes is nothing short of remarkable.
Oliver Torres was a standout basketball player at Española Valley, playing under legendary coach Lenny Roybal. He launched his own coaching career six years after high school, starting at Peñasco and then spending four years as the boys basketball coach at Desert Academy.
A two-year break led him to an assistant’s job with the women’s program at Northern New Mexico College. Four years later Roybal gave him a call.
Then the athletic director at Española, Roybal talked his former player into taking over the Lady Sundevils’ program. It lasted just one year as Roybal and Torres were both let go following their one and only season together.
“It’s frustrating, you know, but I understand the politics of basketball in Española just as much as the next guy,” Oliver Torres says. “I really think we could have done something special had I been given a chance, but that’s Española for you. It will always be that way.”
Another break led Oliver Torres to the SFIS softball team. His grandmother is Navajo, and both he and his brother trace their roots to San Juan Pueblo.
Oliver Torres admits he didn’t know much about coaching fast-pitch softball, so he poured himself into instruction books and videos.
He sought the advice of peers and asked for help from former teammates from a fast-pitch league he’d once played in.
“What I’ve learned about coaching,” he says, “is if you’re a leader, you’re going to lead. You’ll find a way to do it no matter what.”
The Lady Braves won 22 games in his first season and, despite losing a doubleheader at top-ranked Las Vegas Robertson on Saturday, are still a lock for the Class 3A playoffs with 13 wins and a top-three finish in District 2-3A.
As for Jude Torres, he didn’t have much of a chance to play baseball in high school. Three years younger than Oliver, he also never had the chance to play with his brother.
“He was always just a little too old for me,” Jude Torres says.
SFIS has won 45 games in the two-plus years Jude Torres has been head coach. The program had won just 46 games in the nine previous years, including one-win seasons in 2012 and 2014.
The Braves are a virtual lock for a fourth-place finish in 2-3A but, for a time, were ranked as high as No. 2.
“For one week we were in that [No.] 2 spot, so our guys know we can do it,” Torres says.
Despite being 5-foot-7, Jude was able to dunk a basketball before his high school days were done. After graduation, he turned to baseball, playing for a touring semi-pro team that made appearances at tournaments all over the region and the country.
He developed a powerful compact swing that made him into a long-ball hitter. What’s more, he developed a ferocious work ethic centered around the fundamentals.
The sport’s nuances, like learning to hit with two strikes, fielding grounders, to run the bases, hitting cutoff men and how to lay down a bunt all became his focus.
He turned those things into a moneymaking venture.
He opened an instructional baseball business in Santa Fe and dedicated most of his time to players who had little to no exposure to the game. There was something about the wide-eyed, fresh faces of players rarely exposed to the sport that appealed to him.
“If a kid wanted to play, I wanted to coach him,” Jude Torres says. “Every team I built was competitive because we focused so much on the fundamentals of the game. On the rez, there is no strategy and there are no fundamentals, so the goal with these older kids [at SFIS] is to do the same as I did with the younger kids; to teach them the game and watch them start to believe in themselves.”
Both Torreses say the biggest challenge at SFIS is two-fold. A boarding school, SFIS has its students scatter far and wide when classes are out. Whether it’s a weekend, holiday or anything in between, the kids head home and rarely have the constant contact with coaches.
“We had a lot of the kids head out over Easter, and for about a week, week and a half maybe, none of them picked up a baseball or swung a bat,” Jude Torres says. “We came back and immediately had to play St. Mike’s and, yeah, it showed, because we didn’t settle in and start playing like ourselves until it was too late.”
It leads into the second issue: Time. Whereas most athletes at other schools operate within a mindset that they need to be several hours early for any event they participate in, SFIS athletes tend to operate on a different level.
“It’s kind of an Achilles’ heel,” Jude Torres says. “I call it Indian time. They arrive on their own time, like 10 minutes before a game sometimes. That doesn’t give them a chance to warm up or hit, and they don’t really get loose until the third or fourth inning. You get frustrated with it but you gotta play with the cards you’re dealt. They’re all great kids, you know? It’s just different here.”
Different, sure, but the talent is certainly there. The Torres brothers are committed to bringing it out, to nurturing it the right way and staying patient in a place where it takes a special approach to get the players to reach their peak.
“I’ve coached in places where it’s either win or you’re out,” Oliver Torres says. “Right now it’s like, here — take these players and teach them the game and see what we can do. You have to love that.”