Senior catcher carries on PV legacy of leadership

Andrew Caliendo knows the end of his prep career will be emotional

Karl Schneider

FARMINGTON — The Piedra Vista baseball program has been blessed the past several seasons.

Piedra Vista's Andrew Caliendo chases a loose ball against Colorado's Fruita Monument on March 18, 2016, at Ricketts Park.

The Panthers have won a lot of games, numerous district titles and a handful of state championships, and have regularly been one of the top teams in the state.

A variety of factors have contributed to the program's staying power, and at the top of the list is the team's good fortune of having great leaders every season.

Head coach Mike McGaha can name every team leader he's had during his tenure at PV, and in the coming years, it's likely he'll look back at the different leaders he's had and cite Andrew Caliendo among the best.

"I'll use the analogy or cliché, but he is the foundation of what we do," McGaha said. "He's the guy who keeps everybody up. We don't have a lot of guys who pick him up, but he picks everybody else up. He's the strong one and has been the foundation and what has kept us afloat at times."

Caliendo, a senior who has signed to play for New Mexico Junior College, has had time to grow into the leadership role for PV. He has been starting at catcher for the Panthers since he was a sophomore, getting thrown into the lineup when Zach Ahlgrim missed his senior season with a knee injury.

He had the luxury of sitting back and watching previous PV leaders and seeing how they carried themselves. He learned from all of them, but no one taught him more than McGaha.

Piedra Vista's Andrew Caliendo connects on a pitch against Cleveland on Saturday at Ricketts Park.

"All those guys were great teammates and good leaders, but I think I am the way I am because of coach McGaha," Caliendo said.

Over the years, Caliendo and McGaha have built a strong relationship. What started as a player-coach relationship has evolved into more of a friendship. And in a few weeks, when the baseball season ends after the 6A state tournament, the two will have to part ways.

"The difficulty of saying goodbye to Andrew Caliendo is probably one of those things people wouldn't understand if I explained it," McGaha said. "It'll be sad to have to replace him, but I'm proud to see him go because I know the product. I know what (NMJC) is going to get, and I know what he's going to be in the world."

The duo only has two more regular-season games left together, then the state tourney.

McGaha knows what it will be like to say goodbye to Caliendo and the rest of PV's seniors — he has had to do it year after year. But the experience will be something foreign to Caliendo.

If the Panthers can make a run at state and win the title — they have a chance after being ranked in the top five all season — it will give Caliendo and his fellow seniors a lasting memory to go out on. If they come up short of the title, Caliendo will still have plenty of great memories of the Panthers.

"I've been thinking about that, and I think I'm going to cry like a little baby," Caliendo said of the season ending. "This means the world to me. This jersey means the world to me. I love all my friends, and it's going to be really hard. I'd much rather lose with them than win with anybody else."

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the baseball team's high school. It is Piedra Vista.