COLORADO SPRINGS. Not many high school juniors can say that they’ve been a part of their school’s baseball team for more than 10 years. But St. Mary’s High School junior Nick Baca has a hard time remembering a time in his life when St. Mary’s baseball wasn’t a part of it. He started as a bat boy at the age of five and continued in that role until he was 12. When he entered St. Mary’s as a freshman in 2015-2016, he resumed his Pirate baseball career.
Baca’s mom, Debbie, said when he was four years old, Baca attended St. Mary’s baseball coach Bill Percy’s Top of the Rockies Baseball Camp. That led to the Baca family attending a St. Mary’s baseball game, during which Baca watched the game from the fence.
“While Nick was standing at the fence watching the game at The Grace Center, a coach asked Nick if he would like to come into the dugout and be the bat boy for the evening. Of course, Nick said ‘Yes!’ After that, Nick went back as often as he could, and within a year, he was their official bat boy,” Debbie Baca said.
As a younger player, it was great being around the high school players, Baca said, and they became great friends. The lessons learned during his bat boy days continue to impact his life.
“I watched them and emulated them and it helped me prepare. I learned to put in extra effort seeing their work ethic, and that has helped me in school and preparing for games,” Baca said. “It’s made me a better leader and a better sportsman during games and off the field. I learned to step up and do what is needed of me.”
That work ethic was recently recognized when Baca was selected by St. Mary’s High School to be their Rotary Champion for baseball. Rotary Champions honor outstanding scholar athletes from El Paso and Teller County high schools who have placed a high value on academics and leadership in school, community, and home.
During his career as a Pirate bat boy, Baca was considered a member of the team. The Pirates presented Baca with a small St. Mary’s uniform and let him travel on the bus with the team. He was invited to the baseball banquet every year. Debbie Baca said her son never wanted to miss a St. Mary’s baseball game, and that the family eventually started going to the basketball and football games to cheer on the baseball players who played multiple sports.
“As a parent these were incredible memories,” Debbie Baca said. “Watching the young men of St. Mary’s High School interact with my son was incredible. It was like Nick had nine big brothers who cared for him. A group of them came to Nick’s Little League game and cheered him-on. One of them, Logan Elliot, even entered the dugout to be Nick’s bat boy. These memories are priceless! I have remained friends with some of these families for more than 10 years. It made me look forward to the relationships I would continue to make through St. Mary’s High School.”
One of Baca’s most vivid memories of his bat boy days was a playoff game the Pirates played against Faith Christian in Littleton. It rained the whole game and even when it started to pour, the umpire decided to continue the game. The game was delayed at one point but the Pirates went to win in extra innings.
“I remember that Ty Smith slid into third base at one point and half of his jersey was coated in mud,” Baca said.
Baca said his bat boy experience made transitioning to high school easier, even though he would have attended St. Mary’s even if he hadn’t served as their bat boy. Having attended Coach Percy’s camps, he knew how Percy approached the fundamentals. But getting his start during his freshman year as a Pirate player was memorable for Baca.
“It was a surreal experience to be on the field actually playing and helping the team instead of just being there to support them,” he said. “I got my first start during my freshman year against Colorado Academy. I played third and hit a line drive. It was such a cool experience.”
Being a bat boy for a high school team can provide younger players with invaluable experience, and it’s an opportunity that Baca encourages younger players to pursue.
“As a bat boy you’ll learn a lot about the game and make a lot of connections,” Baca said.
“When I was a bat boy, I got to do the drills with the team, which helped me both mentally and physically. Younger players should remember that baseball is supposed to be fun, though, and if you make make it too stressful you’ll never succeed,” he said.
Baca said his goal is to be the best he can be for both himself and his team. Looking ahead, he would like to see the Pirates return to the state tournament. It would be special if that happened next year, his senior year, especially given that the team’s first trip to the state tournament happened his freshman year. Then he hopes to continue playing the game in college. He’s looking at Catholic colleges and considering a minor in religion or religious studies.
Throughout his baseball career, Baca said he has realized that there is a back and forth relationship between his playing and his service in the church. His faith, and Jesus’ teaching, influence how he treats others and the lessons he’s learned through baseball help him give his best to the church. Experiences build on what he’s learned through his Catholic education at Corpus Christi and St. Mary’s.
“I see my faith in my attitude toward the game,” he said. “You have to enjoy what your doing, enjoy your service in the community. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you perform better.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)