Eastern New Mexico University junior designated hitter Kelton Hayes fouls a pitch during the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Southeastern Oklahoma at Greyhound Field. (CNJ staff photo: Jesse Wolfersberger)
By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — After winning their third game of the weekend and improving to 16-4 on the season, Eastern New Mexico University’s baseball players looked more like young Little Leaguers than college students.
One player was spraying people with the field hose, while two others were wrestling on the infield grass. All the while veteran coach Phil Clabaugh drove the tractor on the infield dirt, laughing deep belly laughs like a tickled Santa Claus.
Yep, these guys are dirtbags.
“For me, that’s the ultimate compliment you could give a kid,” Clabaugh said. “To call him a dirtbag.”
In 2004, the Boston Red Sox were the self-proclaimed “idiots” who won the World Series. In 2006, ENMU is off to one of the best starts in school history and Clabaugh has a nickname for his squad — the dirtbags.
The Hounds swept a doubleheader against Southeastern Oklahoma 12-11, 7-4 on Saturday at Greyhound Field to improve on the best start in school history since Clabaugh revived the program in 1992.
Clabaugh said a “dirtbag” is to baseball what a gymrat is to basketball.
“Old school baseball guys were called dirtbags,” he explained. “These kids are baseball kids. If you look at our unis (uniforms) today and you look at their unis, whose were the dirtiest?”
In the first game, Southeastern erased an early six-run deficit, but let the win slip away when an infield error with the bases loaded and no one out in the bottom of the seventh let in the tying and game-winning run.
The Hounds took the nightcap when senior center fielder Ryan French and junior second baseman Mike McDuffie connected for doubles in a four-run third inning.
With a three-run lead in the top of the seventh, sophomore closer Keith Balderaz came in and shut the door to seal the win and earn his eighth save of the season — tying the school record.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Balderaz said of the mark. “I do better when I don’t think about stuff like that. I just play for these guys — that’s my main goal, to do what I can to help them win.”
Balderaz said key to the Hounds’ success is the lockerroom camaraderie.
“We all get along pretty well,” Balderaz said. “We all clown around with each other and stuff. We’ve got real good chemistry. It’s a good team to be on.”
Southeastern coach Mike Metheny said his team was not able to get enough breathing room to pull away from Eastern.
“They’ve got a good ballclub, and they’re playing really well,” Metheny said. “The book on them is they’ll beat you if it comes down to a close ballgame.”
All but seven of the Hounds’ games this season have been decided by three runs or less. They are 11-2 in those contests.
“We’re just a bunch of scrappers,” Balderaz said. “Or dirtbags, as coach would say.”