FARMINGTON — Three years ago Damion Lovato wasn't sure if he would even get a chance to play collegiate baseball after battling a wrist injury through his senior season at Piedra Vista.
But Lovato was able to showcase his powerful bat during the 2010 state tournament and he found himself at New Mexico Junior College.
Injuries during the Connie Mack summer seasons in Farmington also limited Lovato's ability to get on the field in college. He played just 16 games his freshman season. But in just 34 games in 2012, Lovato lit up the Western Junior College Athletic Conference with a .374 batting average and a slugging percentage just four points shy of .600.
His late season offensive outburst landed him several quality Division II offers, but Lovato also gained the attention of Kansas State, where he decided to sign a National Letter of Intent with last week.
"I picked Kansas State because I believe it presented me with the best opportunity to continue baseball at the (professional) level," Lovato said. "It is not everyday that you get the opportunity to play Division I, especially in the Big 12."
Lovato picked the Wildcats over schools such as St. Edward's University, New Mexico Highlands and Lubbock Christian.
"The facilities at Kansas State are awesome. It was a hard decision to make, but Kansas State eventually made me an offer I could not let go," he said. "An education at a Division I college was the other reason I chose them. Baseball will eventually not be there and I want to be able to have a degree that will give me the best opportunity to continue on after baseball."
Lovato accumulated most of his five home runs in 2012 during his final 25 at-bats of the season. His five homers ranked seventh in the conference and came in 20 games fewer than the conference leaders who finished with 10.
"My season at NMJC opened many doors for me. Hitting near .400 and making the everyday lineup exposed my skills," Lovato said. "My year at Hobbs gave me the time to develop into the player I am today and playing junior college allowed me to get more reps where I could build and improve."
Nothing has come easy for Lovato. Two more injuries kept him out of the lineup a large amount of time at NMJC, but Lovato continually worked to stay in shape and get healthy enough to play.
He credited his work with Strike Zone instructor Adam Morrissey for helping him continue his career.
"The amount of work that I had to put in was more than I ever imagined," Lovato said. "The adversity I faced with my injuries is hard to describe. All I could do was push myself and hope that my hard work would pay off."
Piedra Vista head coach Mike McGaha, who coached Lovato in his senior season, said he wasn't sure if the opportunity to go Division I would ever happen for Lovato.
"I always knew he had the potential to go to a big school, but I didn't really know if it would happen," McGaha said. "Coach Josh Simpson at NMJC allowed him to progress, and Damion worked his tail off to get in the lineup. By chance a scout saw him taking batting practice when he was there to recruit another guy. Kansas State knew they were losing a bat like his in their lineup. Highlands and other schools were rolling out the red carpet for Damion after his season, and Kansas State saw he would be a steal."
Making consistent contact will be Lovato's biggest challenge at Kansas State, according to McGaha, who said Lovato's plus-power will greatly help him when he does connect.
While in Manhattan, Kan., playing for head coach Brad Hill, Lovato said he wants to be an impact player in the lineup.
"I am going to put in the hours to better my skills and hopefully become a draft pick in two years," he said. "Professional baseball has always been a dream of mine and I see myself one step closer to achieving that goal."
Lovato said none of his success would have been possible without the community of Farmington that has supported him through high school and Connie Mack.
"I have had many fans who have been supportive through the years, and I would like to thank all of them. My family, friends and coaches all deserve credit for my success because they have pushed me to be a successful baseball player," he said.