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Thunderbirds Skipper Wants to Give Back

Thunderbirds Skipper Wants to Give Back photo 4/9/2017 8:11:04 p.m. - Hobbs, NM.  

[Story by Jason Farmer, Hobbs News Sun]

When Jimmy Durham accepted the New Mexico Junior College head baseball coach job, it was a chance to come back to a place where he felt comfortable and loved. He once served as an assistant coach of the T-Birds when Ray Birmingham was head coach.

That love he felt also goes back to the loss of his wife Michele to breast cancer in 2004 and the support he got from the community during that tough time. Now that he is back, Durham wants to be able to help others who are dealing with what he went through. So, when the Thunderbirds take the field this Saturday at home, they will be holding its Inaugural Play Pink Game.

“Just from the outside looking in, I think sometimes you have events where you just want to raise money for people,” NMJC Athletic Director Deron Clark said. “This one has a lot of community connection and it is not just NMJC putting this together for a random cause. With Jimmy coming back, as you can tell, it has rekindled a lot of connections that he had in the community the first time and they run deep.”

The benefit of Durham and the T-Birds’ Play Pink game will be Angel Flight South Central, a group that flys breast cancer patients in need of treatment to Houston, Texas to get that treatment, free of charge.

“I am just really trying to help an organization that kept us to together,” Durham said. “That is all I am doing. It is not going to bring my wife back. This organization, they do it for free. And it’s not just us they have helped, they help a lot of people and they are going to help a lot more. That is all I am trying to do. I am trying to bring attention to what they did for us and what they do for everyone else because a lot of people don’t even know about them.”

Durham plans to hold the event annually.

“There is no hoping. I am doing it every year,” Durham said. “This is the inaugural. That’s why I don’t put any dates on anything other than just the flyers. Everything is going to be about the same, other than the date on it and they can change that.”

Saturday, the T-Birds will wear pink jerseys during their game against Frank Phillips College. Fans who want to purchase a Play Pink shirt, may do so by emailing Melanie Garcia at mgarcia@nmjc.edu. The shirts cost $15.

“They are going to have a pink jersey with their name on the back,” Durham said. “They are going to get to keep the jersey. The guys that return, they will keep that jersey and use it the next year then take it with them.”

There will also be an auction to raise money for Angel Flight South Central.

Among the items to be auctioned off are several autographed baseballs from Major League Baseball players, a couple of signed MLB bats, a signed and framed jersey of Baltimore Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis, tickets to a Texas Rangers game and a one month membership to Body & Sol Fitness in Lovington. Additionally, there will be a pink bat signed by the members of the NMJC baseball team, a signed baseball hat by the T-Birds, as well as signed and framed Play Pink shirt from the T-Birds. Finally there will be two one-hour hitting clinic lessons certificates and two one-hour pitching clinic lesson certificates up for auction.

One of the people who helped Durham and his family during that tough time, Hobbs City Commissioner Cynthia Calderon, will be on hand Saturday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Durham said that the Hobbs Eagles Diving Coach, who is currently battling breast cancer of her own, was a big help to him and wanted to help Calderon get her own Angel Flight, but she was now getting treatment in Lubbock and didn’t need to fly to Houston.

“She has been battling breast cancer for a number of years,” Durham said. “She has been back and forth to Houston. My kids and I would go see her when she came down to Houston for treatment.”

When probed about who would catch the first pitch, Durham was quick to crack a joke.

“Whoever can block, but there is not many of them who can,” Durham said.

Clark was quick to respond with the idea that Durham should catch the pitch, but the T-Birds’ skipper is still deciding if he wants to stand on the mound with Calderon when she throws the pitch.

“We are going to practice today,” Durham said of his and Calderon’s plans for today. “She said she doesn’t want to embarrass me, but I said trust me, you can not embarrass me with what I have seen this year. … I will either catch it or be standing next to her.”

Durham has had plenty of time to plan this event. He has been dealing with the loss of his wife for a long time.

“It’s been 12-13 years and it never really gets any easier when people ask you about it,” Durham said. “If they don’t ask you, its fine, I just go along. But when they ask you point blank like you are asking me, it’s just not as easy when you get asked a question, but I get over it and go back as strong as ever.”

The game on Saturday is the second day of a two-day doubleheader the T-Birds will play against Frank Phillips. First pitch is set for noon.

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