Elida native’s book focuses on family, upbringing

Acosta

Kevin Wilson

Yolanda Acosta knew she had quite a story to tell, even before she knew the whole thing.

The Elida native is getting set to release her book, “Acosta,” a tale of the upbringing she received in Elida and Portales, with emphasis on the career of her late brother Oscar, who was a pitching coach with the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and New York Yankees organizations.

Yolanda said when Oscar died in an auto accident in 2006, she felt his story had to be told, because he was never one to discuss himself.

“When he came home, he never talked about baseball or who he knew,” she said. “I’d ask him, ‘Oscar, how’s New York or (Derek) Jeter or whoever?’ He’d say, ‘Yolanda, I’m home, I want to talk about family.’”

When she started her research, she realized that to talk about Oscar, she, too, had to talk about family.

“Oscar would tell some of the reporters, ‘I’m really blunt,’” she said. “His yes was yes and his no was no. Nobody would ever have to leave him looking over their shoulder.

“A lot of that was instilled by my mom. My mother was and is the rock in the Acosta family. This book is not primarily about Oscar.”

Paul Niemi, a book publicist based in New Mexico, said he was excited to get the opportunity to work with Yolanda Acosta, with his interest in Latino outreach.

“Oscar was very well-known in baseball circles, but there’s a bigger story to be told and a wider audience to reach,” Niemi said. “It’s about traditional Latino values. There’s kind of something for everyone. It’s going to appeal to the baseball fan, but it’s also going to appeal to moms, dads.”

The story of Oscar Acosta’s journey from Elida to the big leagues is a story former Lubbock Christian University and Texas Tech baseball coach Larry Hays said needed to be told.

After Acosta’s 1977 graduation from Elida High, he tried to pitch for Dallas Baptist. When that didn’t work, he showed up on Hays’ field at LCU.

“He had tremendous pride, and also had a lot of confidence. When he started off, his mechanics were horrible. That’s why I think he became such a good pitching coach because he totally changed his mechanics.”

Back then, however, he saw a kid with horrible mechanics — most notably, a ridiculously high leg kick — who’d already failed at a less-established school.

“I didn’t think there was any way he could help us,” Hays said. He aimed to chase Acosta out by throwing him into the fire — an inning against LCU’s 3-4-5 hitters, two of them All-Americans.

“I could see the fire in his eyes,” Hays said. Acosta struck out the side on 12 pitches. He later coached with Hays at both LCU and TTU after a rotator cuff injury ended a three-year career in the minors.

He bristled with management over his 15-year coaching career in the majors, Yolanda acknowledged, but his players would swear by his hard-nosed approach.

“He didn’t have any room for prima donnas,” Yolanda said. “He was raised in ranching in Elida. It’s those values that we learned in Elida schools that kept us going. He would play baseball, and come home and start running cattle or whatever.”

The book, which is also being adapted into a screenplay, includes stories of struggle — Oscar working as a ranchhand between coaching jobs and a hard-nosed father who forbid her to attend college — and of triumph, when she was invited to the 1984 Republican convention to help re-elect Ronald Reagan.

“There are some tough things in my book, but it’s the way it is. When I look back, I can see God’s hand in everything.”

The book is available through numerous online merchants, Niemi said, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Borders. On Sept. 25, a book launch reception will be held 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Hotel Albuquerque, and local merchant Bookworks will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from that day’s sales of “Acosta” toward the New Mexico Coalition against Domestic Violence.

Yolanda lives in Albuquerque now, but her mother and sister live in Portales.

“I love Elida,” Yolanda said. “When I go back to Portales and Elida, it’s a place where men still take off their hat to a lady. When you’re driving by, someone always waves.

“One time I was going to see Daddy’s gravesite. As I was passing a procession, the students were playing outside. The teacher made them all stand and look toward the procession and stand there in respect. It’s something you don’t see in big cities.”