NMMI Baseball Coaches Retire | local sports
From their time as little league coaches to when they took over the Colt baseball program from the New Mexico Military Institute, Charlie Ward and Steve Rogers have been proven winners.
Three state championships and countless playoff appearances are testament to that.
It wasn’t just about wins and state titles, ultimately it was about making a lasting impression on the players they coached.
They impacted their players in more ways than one.
After 22 years together at the helm of the Colt baseball program, the dynamic duo are now retiring.
“I think it was a great race. Life is too precious,” Ward said. “I want to see my grandkids, my family and I want to do things with my girlfriend Tammy. I’m ready to move on.
Ward began his coaching career in New Mexico shortly after graduating from Sul Ross State University when he made his Hagerman debut in 1985. He wore many hats, coaching volleyball, college and high school athletics, football and basketball.
The winning tracks started early for Ward as Hagerman won back-to-back Class 1A state track titles in 1989 and 1990.
After spending time at Mesa Middle School from 1990 to 1998 as a coach, where he helped lead eighth grade boys and girls in basketball, football and track to city titles, Ward had the opportunity to come to NMMI in 1998.
As an assistant to former Colt head football coach Dwight Burns, Ward also served on the staff of former Colt head baseball coach Henry Villareal.
Villareal left the job and former NMMI sporting director Richard “Lefty” Stecklein handed over to Ward. Happy to receive the new position, Ward brought along his longtime friend, Rogers, as his trusty assistant.
The rest, as they say, is history.
NMMI finished 11-11 in Ward’s first season as head coach in 2000. It was the first time a Colt baseball team finished the season at .500 or better since 1967.
From that point on, the Colts have appeared in 10 first-round state playoff games, nine quarterfinals, and six state semifinals.
Rogers and Ward shared a love of the game, which translated to their players.
At age 19, Rogers got his first training opportunity while serving in the US Marine Corps across the ocean in Italy.
He was interested in mentoring dependents of base personnel. Rogers was able to fulfill his desire to coach and in that first year his team won the league championship.
After 10 years of service in the Marines, Rogers became involved with the Noon Optimist board in Roswell after hearing about a management opening in the majors division. With a chance to coach his son, Rogers got the job.
One of Rogers’ player moms had worked with Ward at Mesa. This led to a reunion with Ward and Rogers. A strong bond through the game of baseball was created between the two coaches.
“We talked about baseball, and it felt like we were growing on the same tree. He was the front of the page, I was the back of the page,” Rogers said.
As their sons grew and moved on in life, the glory days of little league coaching were now over for Ward and Rogers.
Rogers then jumped at the chance to join Ward at NMMI.
From underdogs to champions
In 2001, NMMI wasn’t even in the state championship conversation.
Lovington was the overwhelming favorite to top Class 3A.
The Colts reached the semifinals, where they defeated Cobre, who was coached by former head coach and now New Mexico lieutenant governor Howie Morales.
At the old and now demolished Albuquerque Sports Stadium, the Colts lost 4-3 to Lovington in the state championship.
Heading into the ninth inning deadlocked at 4-4, NMMI got a single stolen base and then a clutch hit to left field, which proved to be the game winner.
“Everything went well for them. The pitch was good. They believed,” Ward said of his 2001 team.
Rogers added: “The first championship for me was kind of a shock and awe.”
And so the dynasty had begun.
The following year, NMMI was nothing short of dominant en route to a second consecutive Class 3A State Championship.
NMMI won 21 straight games that season, which ranks seventh in the New Mexico Activities Association’s state record book for most consecutive wins.
From one to nine, the Colts have been solid. It showed that they were leading just about everyone they played.
It boiled down to another encounter with Nemesis Cobre. This time the two teams met in the state title game at Ricketts Park in Farmington. The game was close until JJ Donovan hit a three-run homer in the sixth to lift NMMI to an 8-4 win.
“This team was just a machine. They could flip that switch,” Rogers said. “We could have taken nine boys, put their names in a hat, brought them out and put them in the batting order. That’s how versatile these boys were.
It was a special moment for Ward as he got to experience it with his son Charlie Ward III, who pitched during the state title game.
A long wait, but still collars capture state crown
Twenty years later, NMMI found themselves in the limelight and played for another blue trophy.
This year’s team was unique because of the strong brotherly bond and never give up mentality.
The Colts started the season winning their first nine games before suffering their first loss in the Sertoma Colt Classic title game.
NMMI then lost four of its next five games.
Things changed after going through the gauntlet of a district with the likes of East Mountain and Sandia Prep.
The Colts began another nine-game winning streak to close out the season as they finished tied for third in the district.
Receiving the third seed and a first-round bye, it was no surprise when the Colts had to face Cobre in the quarterfinals. The drama started early.
NMMI lost 2-1 in the sixth. Just when it looked like an early elimination for the Colts, Cobre’s pitchers walked six straight batters, which helped NMMI take the lead. The Colts managed to take the win 4-3.
Things looked pretty bleak in the semi-final match against Raton, who had a 9-3 lead.
NMMI then scored eight runs in the bottom of the sixth to claim an incredible 11-9 win to advance to the state title game. It became the Colts’ rallying cry.
Against district rival East Mountain, NMMI won a dominating 17-1 match in five sets to lift the blue trophy.
Ward and Rogers finish with 345 career wins with the Colts.
Positive effects far beyond a title
During the state championship tilt, many alumni of previous Colt baseball teams filled the stands at Santa Ana Star Field in Albuquerque, supporting their former coaches and alma mater.
And that’s when it really hit Ward and Rogers, seeing the impact they’d had – for more than a generation – on the lives of their former players.
“I made a difference. I affected this young man’s life,” Rogers said. “It hammered home that what we’ve done isn’t just win state championships and playoff games.
“That’s what we set out to do initially, but what we really achieved was much bigger and more lasting, impacting lives in positive ways.”
“This last one we just won for me is about the kids and the institution of NMMI,” Ward said.
Beyond Baseball and Retired
After years of planning games and building rosters, Ward can now manage the best team ever, and those are his 11 grandchildren.
There was no secret to success. All the coaches have done is emphasize the fundamentals and the little things.
What started as wanting to rack up wins at the little league level eventually changed Rogers’ mindset.
“The wins were always very important, but not so much that the mental aspects that you put into the game knowing something I say or do could have a long-term positive effect on these kids. I was put here on Earth for some reason,” Rogers said.
NMMI Athletic Director Jose Barron added: “They are a staple at NMMI. They have affected many young lives in many ways. They will certainly be missed. Their impact is immeasurable.