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Team mentality: After Covid-19 cancels season, Las Cruces coach turns first-responder

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- Normally around this time of year, Gil Padilla would be prepping his Las Cruces High baseball team for a postseason run.

But with COVID-19 cancelling the rest of the high school baseball season, Coach Padilla is helping a different team and fighting a much bigger opponent.

That's because when Gil Padilla isn't manning the dugout for the Las Cruces Varsity baseball team, he works as a health promotions specialist for the New Mexico department of health.

"There's times that I might be throwing batting practice to the kids," says Padilla, in his 22nd year coaching the Bulldawgs. "And when the phone rings, it says 'Hey did we ever get that report out to Santa Fe'...I'll say yeah hold on lemme check."

Working for the health department, Padilla knew bout the oncoming impact of Covid-19 before it hit Las Cruces.

"Everyday, two weeks before we got shut down I was in the clubhouse with Clorox wipes and Lysols and wiping things down."

When the NMAA canceled all spring sports in late March, Padilla traded in his coaches hat for that of first-responder.

He's very much like a utility infielder, helping administer Covid-19 tests to citizens at the Dona Ana Health Services center.

"As they're coming in for services, what I'm trying to do is be a team member and help out the people who are coming in," adds Padilla who has worked for the Department of Health for 25 years.

"Who are you here for? 'Vital records,' this is the number to call. 'I'm here for immunizations,' here's the number to call. Are you here for COVID testing? Here, park here. I'll let them know that you're here, kind of thing."

The team mentality is one Padilla has had since his college days on the NMSU baseball team. Just ask his old co-captain, NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia.

"You can ask 100 people in this community and you won't get 99 positive responses," says Moccia, who played 1st base while Padilla was at 2nd. "You'll get 100 on the character of Gil Padilla."

Whether he's waving in a runner from third, or waving in a civilian for a coronavirus test, Coach Padilla's winning attitude stays constant.

"Team. Together everyone achieves more, and that's kind of the mentaility we have around here where if we work together as team, support each other's back... we can get these people tested."

The other constant? His Bulldawgs hat, sported both on the diamond and the pandemic frontlines.

Health / High School Sports / New Mexico / New Mexico Sports

Nate Ryan

Nate Ryan is an ABC-7 sports anchor/reporter.

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