The final home game of the Bob Davie era drew a (generously listed) crowd of 11,611 on Nov. 30, 2019. The actual figure was far, far lower, with some estimates from those of us in the press box somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 fans. UNM later explained that it was paid attendance, not the actual number of people in the facility.
The Lobos haven’t played in their home stadium since then. The entire allotment of 2020 home games was moved to Las Vegas, Nev., thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s been so long, in fact, that the team’s home has changed names (out with Dreamstyle Stadium, in with the ol’ standby University Stadium) and had its field’s title sponsor changed.
While Saturday’s annual spring game wasn’t a real game, it did draw a crowd of 4,769 socially distanced fans. In other words, somewhere in the neighborhood of twice the number of fans as compared to the last time the stadium hosted its own team.
Credit the excitement people feel over coach Danny Gonzales and the work he’s done to rebuild a program that had gurgled down the drain in the waning stages of Davie’s time with the school. Toss in the fact that the team has shown real gains since Gonzales arrived, plus the fact that he has injected a huge influx of high school talent — some from New Mexico — and it’s easy to see why people are curious to see what all the hubbub is about.
And let us not forget last week’s signing of graduate transfer Terry Wilson, a three-year starter at Kentucky. With a proven, veteran, winning quarterback to go with a host of solid running backs, it’s clear things are turning around.
u u u
While we’re at it, how about those lids?
Saturday’s spring game had the surprising uniform twist of new helmet decals. The Silver wore a version of the familiar wolf profile headshot worn by the Lobos in the 1970s and ’80s. The Cherry wore the throwback licking Lobo decal, the cartoonish headshot with the wolf wearing what looks like a sailor’s hat.
Could it be a sign of what’s to come in 2021? Only five months (150 days, in fact) until the season opener.
u u u
Three sports under the direction of the New Mexico Activities Association will return Monday, the official start date of preseason workouts in the traditional spring sports of baseball, softball, track, tennis and golf.
Tack that onto the ongoing seasons of boys and girls basketball, swimming, wrestling, spirit and, of course, soccer. The only sports whose seasons are over are cross-country, football and volleyball, the last two of which ended over the weekend.
As for football, the only area teams to finish above .500 were St. Michael’s (2-0) and Taos (3-0), although Capital (2-2) and Santa Fe High (1-1) had successful runs.
u u u
Northern New Mexico College men’s basketball coach (and, it seems, budding comedian) Ryan Cordova posted a helpful video to Facebook last week, offering a one-minute tutorial on how coaches can rescue their dry-erase white boards if someone accidentally scribbles on them with permanent marker.
He demonstrated by drawing three X’s on his white board using a black Sharpie. The trick, he said, was to take a regular dry-erase marker and scribble over the top of the marks, then wipe it off with one of those felt erasers.
Just like that, problem solved.
Thing is, he posted the video on April Fool’s Day. It had to be a prank, right?
We here in The New Mexican sports department tested it and, shockingly, it worked. No joke, give it a shot.
u u u
New UNM men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino said he spoke with UCLA’s Mick Cronin and Gonzaga’s Mark Few before taking the Lobos’ post. He was curious about their thoughts on the UNM job.
Pitino counts Cronin as one of his best friends in the coaching industry and said Few is someone he turns to on occasion to compare notes.
“He [Few] knows, you know, the potential of New Mexico,” Pitino said. “If you’re trying to do great things, you look at a Gonzaga, and everybody wants to be Gonzaga. Well, Gonzaga’s got a lot of people that are in alignment to go win championships and that doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of hard work goes into that, but the one thing Mark Few told me is he feels like New Mexico could be special.”
Pitino said he got a call from Few when Pitino’s name surfaced as a candidate for the Lobos’ top job.
“He said that is a place you’ve got to seriously consider,” Pitino said. “I look at the West Coast, there’s three really [good] places. Certainly San Diego State you’ve got to give them their due as well, but Arizona, Gonzaga, New Mexico have a basketball-crazed fan base and you can do a lot of special things there. I spoke with Mark about that, I spoke with Mick about that.”
u u u
Former Lobo point guard Drue Drinnon posted on Instagram on Saturday night saying he has committed to Texas State. A part-time starter during his freshman year at UNM in 2019-20, he transferred to Navarro (Texas) College last year.
The comings and goings are getting more and more difficult to keep up with. At last count on Sunday morning, there were 1,191 names in the NCAA transfer portal. That included five players on UNM’s 2020-21 roster; Nolan Dorsey (already signed with Holy Cross) along with uncommitted players Isaiah Marin, Bayron Matos, Keith McGee and Logan Padgett.
It’s entirely likely none of those players will wear a Lobo uniform again. Pitino said last week he had not spoken to Matos or McGee.
Then again, the new coach may be out there doing a little window shopping himself. Seven of his players from Minnesota are currently in the portal.
u u u
New Mexico State has finalized its 12-game football schedule for the 2021 season. Among the highlights: Only five home games, a home-and-home with Hawaii and two dates with teams from the SEC. That includes a Nov. 13 road game at (gulp) Alabama.
The Aggies will open and close the season at Aggie Memorial Stadium, marking the first on-campus games since 2019. Thanks for that, COVID-19. In between they’ll play a brutal 10-game stretch with seven road dates in six states and four time zones.
u u u
Let’s talk baseball.
Opening day was last Thursday and there were 23 players and coaches on big league rosters who once wore an Albuquerque Isotopes uniform. Among them are the familiar names of Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, German Marquez, Raimel Tapia and Jon Gray.
u u u
The Pecos League finalized the teams in this year’s Pacific Division. Or so it says.
As anyone who follows the Pecos League can attest, the only certainty with plans in the Pecos League is they should always be written in pencil, not chiseled in marble slabs.
The league announced on its Facebook page Friday that six teams will make up the California-only division. Excluded from that list was former league champion High Desert as well as Lancaster. Both had been in the league’s plans for months before getting dropped.
The league went so far as to schedule High Desert home games for the middle of the week.
u u u
Now let’s try some MLB and Pecos League together.
The big news during the first two days of the big league season has been the otherworldly hot start by Yermin Mercedes, a 28-year-old journeyman who went 8-for-8 to open the season with the Chicago White Sox. It’s the most consecutive hits to start a season in the modern era, which dates to 1900.
Turns out, Mercedes spent some time in the Pecos League. Drafted by the Washington Nationals, he spent three years in their farm system before finding his way to the Douglas Diablos of the Pecos League in 2014. He played 18 games there, then joined the White Sands (Alamogordo) Pupfish that same season.
In 37 games with the ’Fish he batted .417 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI. His OPS was 1.259. Not once was he intentionally walked.
An interesting tidbit? That was the same season the Santa Fe Fuego won the league title, although the Fort Marcy boys never actually played a single game against Douglas or White Sands that year.