Los Lunas High School graduate Kade Benavidez will play college baseball at New Mexico State University next fall.
Benavidez, who graduated from Los Lunas in the spring of 2020, has spent the last year at New Mexico Junior College and will complete his sophomore year there before enrolling at NMSU.
For Benavidez, the opportunity to play for the Aggies, at a school he has deep familial ties to, was one that was too good to pass up and achieved a childhood dream.
“Both my mom and sister graduated from NMSU,” Benavidez said. “Ever since I was young, my mom has talked about me going to school there. From a young age, I aspired to play college baseball and the team I always wanted to play for was the Aggies.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Benavidez had his freshman season at NMJC wiped out, as well as the majority of his senior year at Los Lunas. As a result, he had to rely heavily on the camps and games the team was able to get in this fall.
“There was a lot relying on the fall for me because I hadn’t really talked to any schools, and this is going to be my last year at NMJC,” Benavidez said. “When NMSU offered me, it was an easy decision for me to commit.”
Keith Zuniga, who serves an assistant coach as well as the recruiting coordinator for the Aggies, was Benavidez’ primary contact within the program throughout the recruiting process after NMJC head coach Mike Robbins recommended Benavidez to Zuniga.
“Coach Robbins had been talking to (Zuniga) about me so when we traveled to Albuquerque for the VTool JUCO event, the recruiting coordinator talked to Coach Robbins to see what day I would be pitching,” Benavidez said.
“I ended up pitching that Saturday and after the game, Coach Zuniga, the recruiting coordinator, called me and sent me some info about the baseball team and their facilities.
“On Sunday he called me again and offered me (a scholarship). NMSU has a great baseball program and they are competitive in the WAC every year.”
Benavidez, who both pitches and plays first base for the Thunderbirds, said the Aggies primarily are recruiting him to pitch, but his exact role once he steps on campus in Las Cruces won’t be determined until next fall gets a little closer.
With one more year left at NMJC, Benavidez is focused on helping the Thunderbirds win a national championship in the spring, as well as putting forth a good showing on the mound.
The Aggies are led by head coach Mike Kirby, who completed his second season leading the program this spring. In his first full year in charge of the program, NMSU went 20-34 against a tough schedule, which featured three teams ranked in the top 25. The Aggies were knocked out in the second round of the double elimination WAC tournament, falling to Seattle University.