Birmingham, who has been in the coaching profession for 42 years (32 as college head coach at UNM, College of the Southwest and New Mexico Junior College), has collected more than 1,200 victories and 22 different championships, including a junior college national title at the NMJC.
However, he was surprised when Keeper of the Game informed him of his award during a recent Zoom conference call.
“Very excited because it’s a great organization that helps people,” said Birmingham. “At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
In a release announcing its selection, Keeper of the Game praised Birmingham for volunteering at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center, delivering baseball gloves to patients and organizing Keeper of the Game’s “Out to the Ballgame” day at Santa Ana Star Field, which included presentation of three seasons worth of special bowls to Lobo Little League’s adaptive Challenger Division.
The organization also acknowledged Birmingham’s ongoing relationship with Lio Ortega, 7, son of former Lobo Fred Ortega, who has been battling brain tumors since he was two years old. The baseball teams at UNM and the Air Force recognized Ortegas during a game in Colorado Springs (where the family lives) and cheered Lio on for a “home run”. Lio also threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a UNM home game against Fresno State in 2017.
The magazine published stories about the Ortega family’s relationship with UNM baseball in 2016 and ’17. Keeper of the Game has links to both stories on the website, keeperofthegame.org.
“Ray Birmingham’s career has been marked by victories, championships and the impact on the lives of countless players, but what he does off the field is even more impressive,” said Game Vilder Keeper James Vilade. “His work to serve those with special needs and disabilities is a passion he has had throughout his career. Coach Birmingham is the community champion. We congratulate him and we know that his work has not been done. ”
Birmingham is the ninth annual Keeper of the Game Award winner, joining a list that includes current and former major league players, coaches and contributors at various levels of the sport. According to the release, Birmingham will receive their award before the home game this season.
“I am humbled to win the Keeper of The Game Award,” said Birmingham. “I wish all the coaches across the country would join this great and selfless organization.”