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Local baseball lifer enters Hall of Fame

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On Dec. 13, former Goddard baseball coach, Henry Villareal was elected into the New Mexico Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. Joining him, from left, are his sons, Cal Villareal and Ty Villareal; wife Sandy; Coach Henry; his father, Henry Villareal; and mother Alicia. (Submitted Photo)

Most Goddard baseball fans notice coach Henry Villareal with his uniform pants pulled down to his shoe tops. He stops just before the batter’s box to get a feel for the opposing team’s pitcher warming up. He lets the pitch go by and slowly trudges to the first base coaches box.

What many fans don’t realize is Henry is getting the timing of the opposing team’s pitcher so he can help his players when they come up to hit. Henry did it so well that the baseball lifer and pitching guru was voted into the New Mexico Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Dec. 13.

Henry found out about his selection to the Hall of Fame by one of his good friends, Marc Hilton the head coach at West Mesa. At first, he thought Hilton was playing a prank on him. It wasn’t until he talked to former Goddard coach Alan Edmonson, that he found out it was true.

Henry was surprised to be voted in, but on a closer look, why not? This award is not about just being a head coach in high school. He never guessed that by starting out as a volunteer at Goddard in 1988, that it would lead him to sleep with the immortals.

He was an assistant coach at New Mexico Military Institute before being picked to lead the Colts, from 1990-99, as head coach. He recorded over 100 wins during his time on the bench. His teams played against Portales, Goddard, Artesia, and Lovington.

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“When I was a coach at NMMI,” Henry said, “it took creative scheduling to try to develop a culture that we are not going to get whipped every game. We tried to build a winning culture and then it got pretty good.”

Henry was 24 years old, as the head coach at NMMI, and credits Andy Robertson with teaching him “to coach on the run.” As a young coach, he only had so much time at NMMI to practice. Robertson explained to him that you go to practice with his concepts and what he was trying to teach.

Teach it and the guys that don’t catch on keep moving on, and hopefully, they will get it by watching other players. Henry had to coach by himself until the Colts’ basketball season was over. His assistant was normally a basketball coach.

As a coach, one of his goals was to not lose to Tucumcari and to have four wins. Henry wanted to make sure his teams were competitive and played the game the right way.

Another thing Henry is proud of is that his dad, Henry Villareal, established the Colt Classic Baseball Tournament. The goal was to establish a tournament at a nice facility for small schools. Henry wanted to get kids on campus early through spring break and get games at home.

During his career, he was an assistant coach and then again at Goddard. Henry loved coaching, but his highest priorities have been his family. After coaching for a number of years, Henry decided to step back and enjoy his family and be a dad. He continued to teach at Mesa Middle School, and he put together a travel team for his sons, Cal and Ty.

Former Goddard baseball coach, Alan Edmonson, called Henry in North Carolina and asked him to be his pitching coach. Henry turned him down and finally accepted the following year in 2012. He coached until 2019 when he retired.

“Henry has had a great impact on me as a coach,” Carlsbad baseball coach Alan Edmonson said, “I was able to pick his brain daily and learn from him. He’s spent a lot of time with the game and never stopped trying to learn. He’s been a special part of my journey as a coach and I will never be able to thank him enough.”

What most people and coaches know about Henry was that he was a student of the game. He never took a shortcut, whether it was practice or a game. He gave every player entrusted to his care everything he had and was a loyal assistant.

Henry’s pitching philosophy was don’t be a cookie-cutter guy. He never tried to change a pitcher’s throwing motion. He always worked with what he was given and taught the basics to get the most out of each pitcher. He credits both Edmonson and current Rockets’ baseball coach, Gilbert Alvarado, for never saying no when Henry wanted to go to a pitching clinic to help Goddard pitchers gain more knowledge.

“I don’t take a guy and say ‘you have to throw the ball this way,’” Henry said. “I tried to look at their natural delivery and build from there. The pitching game has changed tremendously within the last 10 years, because of science, technology, spin rate, movements, pitch shaping and biomechanic movements. I always made it a point to stay on top of things. I wanted to make sure our pitchers were mechanically sound and were not going to injure themselves.”

Henry played for the legendary Don Alsup and pitched. He was a lefty and didn’t throw very hard. He pitched two games his senior year and played first base. Henry played outfield and was a utility guy. He also played with his brother, Frank Villareal.

In high school, he injured his pitching arm and needed Tommy John surgery. While in high school, he never won a state title, coming close in his junior year. That year, Goddard was the eight-seed as Joe Harton threw the game of his life and beat a one-loss Mayfield team. In the next game, they beat Eldorado. In the state championship game, Goddard lost to Del Norte, 6-4 in 1982, after leading the whole game.

Henry has lived his dream, he played at Goddard and had the opportunity to coach his sons, Cal and Ty Villareal. Not many fathers get to coach their kids in the state championship game. Both players contributed to the win, as Goddard broke through to win, 10-3, against Albuquerque Academy.

Cal went 4-for-4 at the plate and Ty made a couple of great catches in the outfield with a hit off the wall at Isotopes Park.

“I enjoyed the victory with both of my sons,” Henry said. “It couldn’t have been a better story ending. It was a dream come true. It was a surreal moment and the highlight of my coaching career. It is the highlight of us as a baseball family, so far.”

Henry coached at Goddard as an assistant coach, six years for Edmonson, and the last two with Alvarado. It is funny how life turns out. Henry coached Alvarado when he was a player at Goddard. Both were the yin to each other’s yang. Alvarado feels like Henry deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

“Nobody is more deserving to be in the Hall of Fame than Henry,” Alvarado said. “He’s a selfless and hardworking individual. He dedicated more than 20+ years to coaching in baseball. He has done more for baseball in Roswell than anybody else. He helped make Goddard baseball into what it is today. Great coach, and an even better man.”

At the ceremony was his wife, Sandy, and his mom, Alicia, and dad, Henry, and two of his children, Cal and Ty.

In his speech, Henry thanked his friend Hilton, who has been an encourager to him in his career whenever he has been down. He thanked Edmonson for getting him back into the game and allowing him to expand his knowledge.

Henry thanked his heroes, which are his mom and dad. His dad, Henry, taught him that when he put his name on the dotted line, give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay and don’t cheat anybody. He taught his family the meaning of being rich.

He thanked his mom, Alicia. Henry credits her for being the backbone of the family. She taught her kids how to love and to be more giving than taking. Henry said the giving aspect comes back in coaching, in that sometimes he would have to neglect his own kids to help other kids. And that his mother taught him to be a caring individual.

Finally, he thanked his wife, Sandy. He remembers working on the fields and she would bring him dinner. She would bring lunches for the team. She also held the family together.

“Sandy,” Henry said, “would always tell me, ‘Treat your boys like they are any other player and not just your sons.’ I needed that. She’s the love of my life.”

Henry thanked the veteran coaches and encouraged the young coaches to open up their minds to the knowledge that was in the room. He told the coaches that he stole from other coaches and asked questions. He told the coaches to challenge themselves to get better.

“I’m extremely surprised that I got into the Hall of Fame,” Henry said. “I hope it’s a statement to the merits of hard work and people knowing that I gave them my best.”

Thoughts from Henry Villareal

Some of Henry’s thoughts:

Best baseball player he had: “Justin Schuta, NMMI ‘95. He came with an unbelievable skillset. Was a catcher/pitcher. Played for him for two years.”

Goddard coach Henry Villareal poses with the championship baseball team. Henry was elected to the New Mexico Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Dec. 13. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)

The best pitcher he coached: “Record and big game-wise: Cal Villareal, Ty Villareal, Ethan Coombes and Drew Price — those guys were really good.”

The most physically gifted pitcher: “Austin Rader — he pitched on ESPN for the Southwest championship. He threw his tail off in the quarterfinal game against St. Pius X. He had a great fastball and a good curveball. He was an unbelievable athlete. He could do it on both sides. He could swing it, too.”

Most mentally tough player: “Tommy Perea. This was a kid that was a stud youth player. He was a middle infielder and his senior year was an all-state player. He would foul off 10 pitches, he was the toughest out. He would kick a ball and never let an error get him down. Just an unbelievable competitor.”

Mentally toughest pitcher: “Ty Villareal. He proved it in an alumni game when Chris Nunez hit a home run off of him during the alumni game. Ty wanted to face him again and have him bat for every guy until he got him out. He gave Goddard everything he had in his tank.”

Best left-handed pitcher: “Josh Wagner and Ricky Roybal.”

Best team ever coached: “Talent-wise 2012 best team at Goddard. It was just an unbelievably talented team.”

The best team as a head coach: “1996 NMMI team. I had a kid that went to Central Michigan. Schuta was on that team. We had some kids go to NMMI. We had four kids, but we need to go seven deep.”

Best advice he was ever given: “Andy Robertson taught him that small goals weren’t a bad thing. They lead to some big things and to narrow his focus down to smaller things. Once I did that, I started to have success. It was a great thing I learned from him. He was a great mentor to me.”

What he learned from Edmonson: “Alan taught me a lot of new age of baseball, and some sabermetrics were going to come into play. I had to learn to mix the two, old school and new school. He taught me the importance of taking steps back.”

What he learned from Alvarado: “To enjoy the small things that baseball presented me. I started to enjoy looking back on the victories. Enjoy what my pitchers were doing. Enjoy life. Taught me to be more understanding of some things. One of the things I really thank Gilbert for is his demeanor. Gilbert never ever pulled the reins on me. We were a good version of the good cop, bad cop. I appreciate both coaches keeping me around.”

“Baseball is going to present life. Both are filled with ups and downs. It can be the most depressing game it can also be the most exhilarating game. It’s just how you ride those ups and downs.”

Legacy: “I was never stagnate and I gave the kids I coached my all. I never treated a kid bad or cheated them. It was never about the wins and I cared about them personally.”

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.