Home for good

After three different colleges    in three years, Michael Baca has found his place at Tabor College.
After three different colleges in three years, Michael Baca has found his place at Tabor College.
Baseball has taken Michael Baca many places. The Tabor College shortstop attended three other schools, including a pair of NCAA Division I programs, before landing in Hillsboro to wrap up the final two years of his collegiate career.

Tabor is the only place Baca has stayed for more than a year, and he said it was such a relief to come back to a familiar program this season.

?The thing I looked forward to the most was coming back to the same coach and the same school and the same guys I know,? Baca said. ?I don?t have to make new relationships.

?The best part about me coming back this season is I actually feel comfortable.?

Collegiate journey

A 2011 graduate of Amarillo (Texas) High School, Baca began his collegiate career at the University of New Mexico, an NCAA Division I school in the Mountain West Conference.

Baca played a variety of positions, including second and third base and left and right field. That year, the Lobos won the conference before falling to UCLA in a regional matchup.

Baca said he had a good freshman campaign, but a coaching change after the season prompted him to take his talent elsewhere.

Following a summer playing ball in Manitoba, Canada, Baca landed at Cisco College, a two-year junior college, where he played shortstop during the 2012-13 season.

After a year at Cisco, Baca was again on the move, this time transferring to the University of Texas-Pan American, another NCAA Division I school.

While playing left field at Pan American early in the 2013-14 season, Baca suffered an AC joint separation and fractured his clavicle, which ended his season prematurely.

When the team experienced friction with an assistant coach, Baca said he decided to leave and complete his remaining eligibility elsewhere.

Baca considered West Texas A&M, a Division II school close to home, but knew he would lose a year of eligibility and have to sit out a year from baseball.

Baca first heard of Tabor that summer while playing ball in Denver. At a tournament in Laramie, he met Bluejay right fielder Manny DeLeon, who was pitching for the opposing team.

?(Manny) threw really well,? Baca said. ?And we just started talking.?

When Baca asked DeLeon where he was going to school, DeLeon said he planned to go to Tabor. Baca expressed interest?playing at an NAIA school was appealing because he would still have two years of eligibility and would not have to sit out a year.

DeLeon said Tabor was looking for a shortstop, and the two exchanged contact information. Baca didn?t think much of it, though, until he received a call from Bluejay coach Mark Stan?diford the next morning.

When Baca?s team made the playoffs a week later, Standiford made the trip to Denver to watch. That led to Baca signing with Tabor less than a month before the start of the 2014-15 school year.

?I had never even heard of Hillsboro and knew nothing about the school,? he said. ?Didn?t even see the school online. I just wanted to come here and play baseball.?

Tabor career

In coming to Tabor, Baca became one of 31 new players to join a Bluejay program that had advanced to the NAIA World Series for the first time in school history the year before.

With the bar set high, Tabor had a record-setting campaign last year, rattling off a nation-best 54 wins?and only 12 losses?during a season that culminated in Tabor?s second trip to the World Series.

Baca batted .342 over 65 games last season as Tabor?s leadoff hitter.

?We just had it,? Baca said of last year?s team. ?We?d go out there and we just all came together. We?d collaborate easily. We had that feel for each other that we could have fun but still be serious at the same time and get stuff done. Everybody loved each other.

?We had great athletes in the field, great hitting, and the best part about it was we had an awesome pitching staff. They were tremendous, and that was a great help to last year. We just had that magic.?

After a summer playing ball in San Diego, Baca returned to Tabor for his final trip around the bases.

The Bluejays started the season with a 25-10 record, 12-4 in KCAC play. Baca said things are beginning to come together for this year?s squad.

Baca himself had a standout week in mid-March that culminated in being named the NAIA National Baseball Player of the Week. During a six-game stretch, he batted .577 (15-for-26) and hit seven doubles, a triple and two home runs.

?It felt really amazing,? Baca said of the national accolades. ?This is definitely one of the best memories I?ll have in baseball right there.?

Early years

Baca, who was born in Clovis, N.M., and moved to Amarillo when he was 7 or 8, credits his older brother, Matt, for helping him develop a passion for baseball.

?My earliest (baseball) memory was being out in a dirt lot that used to be next to our house and he would just want me to play catch with him,? Baca said. ?I was tiny. He was five years older than me, and I don?t know how old I was, but he would just catch the ball and throw it at me full speed. Playing with him every day, that was definitely what made me good at baseball because he was relentless, and he just showed no mercy on me.?

Baca?s first baseball team was the Comets, a T-ball team. As he grew, Baca gained experience in the infield, outfield and even on the mound.

Ironically, Baca had signed to play baseball for Hutchinson Community College following high school before the opportunity to play at New Mexico arose. Now, he has come full circle back to Kansas.

?Baseball?s been everything,? Baca said. ?It?s taken me a lot of places. It brought me to Tabor College, and I think I really needed to be at Tabor College. It felt just right and Coach Standiford was the best coach out of any coach I?ve played for. I just really liked how he did things, and I just felt the fit. It brought me closer and stronger in faith, coming to Tabor College.?

Looking to the future

Baca anticipates graduating in May with a degree in psychology. Off the field, he is an avid hunter and fisherman.

He?s not sure what the future will hold, and said he would like to continue playing baseball. No matter what, he said he will stay involved with the game in some form.

In the meantime, he?ll continue to enjoy the game as he seeks to set an example for younger members of the team.

?I just want to lead by example,? he said. ?I?m an old guy, and I want guys to understand every aspect of baseball. There?s a lot more than just going up there, hitting the ball, fielding the ball and (throwing) it. You?ve got to be a good teammate. You?ve got to be able to sacrifice yourself and get rid of selfish things. It?s a lot more than just the game aspect.?