FARMINGTON — Andrew Caliendo set his baseball future in motion when the Piedra Vista senior signed a letter of intent to play for the New Mexico Junior College Thunderbirds today at the Jerry A. Conner Fieldhouse.
Caliendo said there were a few factors that led to signing with NMJC, including the relationship he built with the coaching staff and the effort they put into his recruitment.
“They were really friendly,” Caliendo said. “Jimmy Durham, he’s the head coach, and every other week I’d get a text from him asking, ‘How’s it going?’ Coach (Jake) McCarter, he’s the recruiting coach, and I’d get the same thing from him. I thought that was really important. It was a really friendly environment and atmosphere, and that was really awesome.”
Other key factors for Caliendo picking the T-Birds over the slew of other programs that had recruited him was having a lot of family in the Hobbs area and the full-ride scholarship NMJC offered him.
NMJC is located in Hobbs and competes in Region 5 of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Last season, the Thunderbirds went 38-21 overall and finished 27-9 in Western Junior College Athletic Conference play.
“It’s a junior college that’s getting a Division I baseball player,” PV coach Mike McGaha said. “We both feel like he’s going to benefit from playing a couple years of junior college, and that will give him more opportunities going forward with Division I schools if he takes care of business the way we think he can.”
When his senior season gets going this spring, it will mark the third straight year Caliendo will serve as PV’s starting catcher. As a sophomore, he was thrown into the starting role to fill a void left by injuries.
McGaha said Caliendo has always had the on-field tools to succeed, which is why he asked so much of the catcher over the past two seasons, but the maturity Caliendo has shown since his sophomore year was a major factor in Caliendo getting to the level he’s currently at.
“Like every other baseball player, he has his ups and downs, but the one part he doesn’t have is the emotional roller coaster that comes with being young and having to play every day,” McGaha said. “I think that was the biggest improvement he’s had over the last two years to get him to this point.”
Caliendo said his academic focus as NMJC will be to take care of his general studies and declare a major when he hopefully transfers to a bigger program in a couple of years. He said he’s not positive what he might focus on in the future, but he is leaning toward political science or journalism.
With the signing out of the way, Caliendo can put all of his focus on his season year. PV has been one of the top programs in the state for several years, but the school’s move from 5A to 6A has taken the Panthers from being a state title contender to an underdog. And Caliendo and the Panthers are ready to prove they can’t be overlooked this spring.
“It’s like we’re the underdog, but we’re going to be pretty good. I don’t think a lot of people expect us to be very good, except for a couple of schools we played this fall,” Caliendo said. “We’re going to compete, and that’s something (McGaha) tells us every day: compete. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Time. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.