Last Wednesday’s rain was a relief to many folks in the Valley, but not Lupe Salinas, who was itching to get back to what he does best, teaching.
The Roadrunner pitching coach spent part of the afternoon trying to find out whether the team would get a chance to play over in Harlingen. The Runners had been on the road for 10 days, and Salinas hates to be out of the loop.
“You can’t communicate with your pitchers very well if you’re not there,” he growsed in his speedy, impatient cadence. “I might get a chance to go on the road trips later in the season but for now I just have to work with them when they’re home.”
The Runners managed to get the game in on Wednesday, beating the WhiteWings 1-0, and after finishing out the series with Harlingen began a homestand Sunday against San Angelo. They’ll play eight games at the Stadium before heading out onto the road again.
There can’t be a better man to shape the ULB team’s arms, because Salinas has a serious resume. It started with 31 collegiate wins from 1970 to 1973 and selection as an All-American for Pan American University in ‘72. A leader of the Broncs’ College World Series entry in 1971, Salinas finished up with a minuscule 1.16 career ERA, tops in program history, including 0.39 in 1972. His stunning 1-0 gem of a victory over future major leaguer Burt Hooton and The University of Texas propelled Coach Al Ogletree’s bunch into the Series in 1971.
He spent 13 seasons in the Mexican Leagues, playing two campaigns a calendar for 10 of those years (he toiled in the Mexican Pacific League in the winters), won 23 games in 1978 with Torreon, and later got into the coaching racket.
So when Salinas, who led Edcouch-Elsa to four playoff trips as head coach from 1995-99, talks, the pitcher in question had better listen.
“I tell them, it’s my head and their arm, and we’ll be successful,” said Salinas, who joined manager Vince Moore this season to welcome back the Roadrunners after they spent three years as the Coyotes. “I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I think I am able to use my experience to help young guys keep their focus, learn how to pitch, and build confidence. But again, it’s hard to get work done when you don’t travel.”
Salinas and his wife Gilma have run A&L Athletics in McAllen for almost 30 years, so he knows a little about multi-tasking. And his record at Pan Am and subsequent pro career have taught him that baseball is a game you have to jump on with both feet.
“I have been scouting for the Mets since 1995, a teammate of mine from Pan Am got me into that,” he explained. “And I have seen some really good prospects mess up their careers. It’s a flash up there in affiliated ball, you have to be ready to get in when the door opens up and do what you have to do. And that includes your attitude as well as your talent.”
As the resident mound guru for the Runners, Salinas is trying to show his charges how to pitch, but also how to handle their business. He knows that it’s tough to make it into the minors, and even harder to taste the delights of the majors.
“I had some feelers from the Reds out of high school but went to Pan Am,” he recalled. “I did pretty well in college, but I didn’t get drafted because I threw maybe 83, 84 and the scouts at the time were looking for the hard throwers. I could have signed with a major league club two different times while I was in Mexico.”
Once, the team he was playing for wouldn’t let him go to the States; another time, his outfit doubled the price to pay after it had already agreed on a figure. But through it all, Salinas held no regrets, and he states that the Mexican League has always been a top-flight circuit.
“It’s tough, we had some guys from the States come down a few times, and they’d be bragging about how well they hit,” he laughed. “I tried to tell them, it ain’t that easy down here…but they had to find out the hard way.”
The veteran coach knows that in pro ball, it’s either produce or you’re gone, so he embraced the opportunity to come out with the Runners in ’09, to nurture the “kids” into solid professionals in every way. Every time he works with a young hurler, he is armed with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Known for possessing an awesome changeup when he played, the EHS grad of 1968 (28 wins in high school, 3-time All-District pick) is ready to help.
“Coaching changes from level to level,” he stressed. “In high school you teach more than you coach, and in the big leagues it’s more coaching. Here with the Roadrunners, I expect to make a difference any way I can.”
With the Broncs, Salinas was part of the one of the nation’s leading pitching staffs, a group that from the late 1960s into the 1970s included Tony Barbosa and Jesse Trinidad, both of whom would become long-time Valley high school coaches after their college days. Salinas said that he learned how to learn from Barbosa, his roommate freshman year in college. The fireballing lefty Barbosa is first on the all-time school list with 351 strikeouts from 1967 to 1970, and had a spotless 1.24 career ERA, making All-American in 1968.
“He was older than I was and let me tell you, I never left the room between the games,” remembers Salinas, a member of the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame and the Texas Latin-American Sports Hall. “He used to put me through a skull session every day. ‘OK, here’s the count, what do you throw?’ he’d ask. And I would pick up so many tips from him, all year long this went on.”
So, when Lupe Salinas walks onto the field with his latest team, the pitchers on the roster would be well-advised to gather ‘round. He’s a lifetime teacher who has the stats to back it up.
NOTES: Edinburg’s shutout against Harlingen Wednesday was a pleasure for Salinas and all ex Broncs, as Tim Haines (2-0) tossed seven shutout innings and Kelly Casares contributed flawless relief for the save, his first of the season. Both are UTPA alums.