Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Little Town That Could

The first time I stepped onto the campus of Socorro High School was one hot, dry day in August of 1987. Just a few months before, over the intercom at Escontrias Middle School, the principal had announced those invited to freshman camp at the high school, which included yours truly. I was one of a handful from my middle school, who would try out for the freshman team.

We met in a portable, immediately south of the old Socorro stadium, which still stands today. There were close to 100 hopeful players, of which only half or so would be selected. To my right was a guy named Arturo Lopez, to my left Aaron Sierra. Little did I know then that those two guys would merit district, city and state honors four years later as members of a varsity team, which created history.

Socorro is a town 19 miles east of El Paso, just outside TX 375 Loop. In my day, Socorro was basically one big cotton farm. Acres upon acres of cotton filled the dessert land, land which we used plenty of times for late-night high school gatherings of sorts. There was one high school then, Socorro High School, and during my middle school years, a grand renovation of the school began in earnest. Such was the construction that many high schoolers had to walk to my school -- Escontrias Middle -- for lunch! Their cafeteria was not in operation. Also, district boundaries forced construction of a new high school -- Montwood -- north of us for the exploding population.

Most of Socorro's residents were families of hard labor. Most families bought large parcels of land and built solid homes one cinder block at a time, many beginning with mobile homes. We had a few military families residing north of I-10 (eventually relocated to Montwood) in the new area for the district. Nevertheless, as simple as life was for us in Socorro, the grand renovation of our beloved high school and the booming population east of El Paso brought magic.

The core group of players joined that hot August day stayed for four years. Some made the varsity squad early as sophomores; others as juniors. By the time we came together as seniors for two-a-days in August of 1990, I could feel something special was about to happen. And, it did. With a win over Riverside High School that Fall as the last game of the regular season, that varsity team took Socorro's football program to the playoffs for the first time in the school's history. Many other appearances followed, deeper each time. Tradition in little Socorro had begun.

But, as historic and as proud as I am to tell that story over and over, nothing compares to what was happening to the Socorro baseball team, one pitch at at time -- even back then. Peruse, if you will, what Socorro baseball has done since my time in 198o's:,_Texas)#Athletics.

Coach Chris Forbes was my linebacker's coach in high school. I'm not sure if he still has any participation in football, but back then, he was the man. He was a little younger, but the mustache and his calm, but determined disposition was the same as the one I witnessed on Saturday, June 13, at Dell Diamond.

Looking back, we were always close. Hardcore fans tell you sports are events of inches, seconds, and last minute heroics. What we live for are moments like this, when all that hard work pays off in a big way.

When the game versus Austin Westlake was in the books on Friday, June12, Socorro had already made history. They had made the final four for the first time, and won. They had advanced to the biggest game in the league: UIL Class 5A Texas State High School Baseball Championship Game.

We were at my brother's house in El Paso, after attending a very difficult funeral for a very young member of our family. The play-by-play over the radio waves boosted our morale a bit, and when the game was over and Socorro conquered, we looked at each other and almost all in unison said, "LET'S GO TO AUSTIN!" And, we did.

After packing and finding a rental car suitable for the total group of 16 travelers, we left El Paso that Friday at 11:10 p.m. Mountain, 12:10 a.m. Central. We had less than twelve hours to get to Dell Diamond, in Austin, to see history.

Like Coach Forbes said later, I had a dream as well. I envisioned us in the stadium with a sign, which read, "Drove all night to see this." I had visions of seeing many of my fellow alums, coaches and faculty members. And, I had true visions of watching those boys carry that trophy back to Socorro for the first time -- ever. All this while enjoying the moment with many family, who were troopers under my Nazi-like leadership of getting us there.

We sat in our seats precisely as the bottom half of the second inning was about to start. We had no sleep, famished and probably dehydrated. I felt bad for the ladies in our group, as they certainly put up with a lot to be there. Nevertheless, the magic began and all things painful faded away like a bad memory. The bats came alive.

After a grand slam by Corey Falvey, the dream came that much closer. The Bulldogs led by as many as 12-4. And, though Lufkin made a late game rally to come within 5, the final score was 12-7 Socorro.

For the first time ever in Socorro's history, and only the second time in the city's history, we had a state champion.

Commenting with my fellow alums after in the concourse, we all agreed the ghosts of the past flashed by. All the "almosts," were erased. A cumulative effort by all previous athletes, who graced the halls of that school, came to fruition with that pop fly in shallow center field.

It goes without saying that Coach Forbes and this 2009 championship squad will never be forgotten.

It is a memory we will take with us to our graves. It is a moment, which will live eternally.

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