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Michael Acevedo’s personality was endearing enough to win people over although a victory was never recorded in his four years as Santa Rita’s baseball coach.
From 2011 to 2014, the Eagles were 0-102 overall under Acevedo, according to results listed by MaxPreps.com. That showing indicates the grim state of Santa Rita’s baseball program — the Eagles were a ghastly 5-219 from 2010 to 2019 — not Acevedo’s coaching ability and baseball knowledge.
He helped coach competitive teams at Bayard (N.M.) Cobre High School, Sunnyside and Empire after his successful playing career at Sunnyside (Class of 1982), Cochise College and Western New Mexico.
Acevedo. a second baseman, was part of one of the best double-play combinations in Tucson history in 1982 at Sunnyside with legendary shortstop Ray Rosthenhausler (who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1984 in the first round of the secondary phase after becoming an All-American at Pima).
“The talent at Santa Rita was not that good, man,” Michael’s brother Richard said. “Nobody came out to play. Michael told me one time, ‘Richard, I had to go through hallways to look for players.’ So he found two guys.
‘What do you guys do?’
“Maybe he just found the athleticism in these two guys,” Richard continued. “Well, these guys didn’t even know how to play catch. They couldn’t hit the ball. So he worked with these guys.
“And they made the team.”
During yet another loss, Michael decided to give one of the players the opportunity to swing the bat. Why not?
“One of these kids that he got out of the hallway … this guy broke up a no-hitter late in the game,” Richard said. “Everybody went wild and he took the team out to Peter Piper Pizza just to celebrate that.”
Richard paused, his voice trembling while he tried to hold back his emotions.
“I just want to keep my brother’s name alive,” Richard said. “He was such a good guy. He really loved to coach these young men.”
Michael, only 51, passed away on Dec. 1, 2015, from complications with his health three weeks after suffering a heart attack.
A year before that, Michael was relieved of his coaching duties at Santa Rita following the 2014 season. He remained at the school as a science and health teacher. He previously served as the athletic director at Santa Rita for two years and was the Eagles’ boys golf coach for more than a decade. Nobody questioned his desire and work ethic toward trying to make the baseball program relevant at that school.
Tom Belter, who coached at Empire at the time, knew of Michael’s value with young players. He immediately called Michael to join his staff for the 2015 season after learning Michael was out of coaching.
“I had known Mike for a long time; he was a good friend of mine,” Belter said. “He was a mentor of mine, actually, for a while because he had an extensive background in coaching and being a player.”
Although Michael coached only one season at Empire before becoming ill and passing away, a memorial with a plaque of Michael’s picture stands beside a tree outside the school’s baseball field.
“I wanted to do something for him and his family, so I got him that plaque,” said Belter, who is now a social worker at Mountain View High School. “In the short time we had him at Empire, the kids really respected him and were really drawn to him.
“I remember this one time he made an incentive bet with some of the players and they ended up winning the bet. The next day he brought in like 15 burritos to practice. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Shortly after Michael’s passing, Belter approached Richard about hosting a baseball tournament at Empire to honor Michael and raise funds for equipment.
Bill Leith, organizer of the non-profit Kino Baseball League, was asked by Belter to help operate the invitational. Eight teams took part in the first Michael Acevedo Athletic Foundation Tournament at Empire, Cienega and Arthur Pack on Dec. 16-18, 2016.
Cold weather forced the tournament to be rescheduled for early summer in 2017 and 2018 at the Kino Sports Complex. Last year, the event changed its date to mid-October and 13 schools took part. Leith anticipates a similar strong participation this fall, if the situation with COVID-19 allows, with the invitational set for the last week of October.
“When we started the Kino Baseball League in 2010, Michael was one of the first coaches who wanted to take part,” Leith said, commenting about the summer high school league he operates annually. “He was always bubbly, a great guy. He used to let us use his field at Santa Rita. I tell you, at one time, Santa Rita had one of the finest looking baseball fields in town because he was meticulous. He learned that from (former Santa Rita coach) Dan Moore.
“Now you go over there and unfortunately it’s like seeing the Twilight Zone.”
Moore retired after the 2010 season, handing the program over to Michael, his top assistant after Michael served as the junior varsity coach. Before his senior season at Sunnyside, Michael played for Moore with the Big League all-star team in the summer that competed against other teams in the state for the chance to go to nationals. He became a double-play partner with legendary Sahuaro shortstop Sam Khalifa on that team.
“When he was coaching at Santa Rita and I was coaching at Sahuaro, we would talk about the old days, the players and the coaches, comparing when we played to today’s players,” Khalifa said. “Michael was a great guy.”
During Moore’s 30-year coaching career, he amassed more than 400 wins and led Santa Rita to the state playoffs every year from 1982 to 2003. In 1986, he guided the Eagles to the Class AAA state championship. Santa Rita was also the state runner up in Class 4A in 1999 and 2000 and won divisional championships in 1982, 1989, 1992 and 1997.
Moore passed away at 57 from a heart attack on Feb. 7, 2011, right when Michael was about to start his first season with the Eagles.
“My brother took care of the field at Santa Rita by himself; he couldn’t get it done by the groundskeepers there,” Richard said. “He raised his own money for the program. My brother also got involved with TUSD to rename Santa Rita’s field to Dan Moore Field.”
Near the end of his last season at Santa Rita, Moore took part in the ceremony of the field becoming the Dan Moore Field.
Four years later, in Michael’s last season as Santa Rita’s coach, the school honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony on the field during the Dan Moore Classic, which Michael helped organize. Just a year and a half later, Michael was gone.
“Michael gave a lot back; we got that from our mom and dad,” Richard said. “My dad was a Marine. He told us to work hard because everybody’s always going to be looking. He would tell us, ‘You’re going to need help one day. Help other people because you’re going to need help yourself.’
“My mom was a disciplinarian. She had a heavy hand. I mean, she had a big hand. She had a rough life growing up. She and my uncle Sammy grew up after their mom left them. Their mom, my grandmother, got married at 13 to this 20-year-old man. He used to beat her, so she left. My mom had to basically raise herself and my uncle going from family to family. She was tough. She had to be tough. She didn’t want to see us to end up like her, so she led us the right way.”
Richard, who also was a standout baseball player at Sunnyside who later played at Cochise College like his brother, has become entrenched with the baseball tournament in Michael’s honor as well as an annual golf tournament that he has organized the last four years.
The Michael Acevedo Golf Invitational helps fund a scholarship in Michael’s name at Cochise College, where he became an all-region player, with some of the proceeds also going to high schools for sports equipment. The baseball tournament continues to raise funds for equipment at various schools.
Richard, who works for an armored truck company, is also the lead singer and bass player for the gospel blues band Caleb’s Spirit that plays mostly at the House of Bards. He and his band have been scheduled to take part in fundraisers for housing homeless veterans. They are slated to play in the Nam to Sand Jam at Reid Park in October that benefits programs for veterans and their families.
Another charitable venture of Richard’s is raising money to help pay for the medical expenses of Sunnyside Class of 1983 classmate Christina Ortega Thomas.
“Christina volunteered at Michael’s golf tournament two years ago in November, and at the end of that month, she suffered a stroke,” Richard said. “Her sister found her on the floor at their parents’ house. If her sister didn’t drop by, Christina wouldn’t be with us today.
“With her right leg, she walks with a little bit a limp. Her right arm, she could not move at all at first. Her mind, her thinking, her speech — she can only get out three words right now. She’s going through rehabilitation. Right now she can move her right arm about 85 percent, which is beautiful.”
Thomas has aphasia, a language disorder that affects the ability to communicate, caused by strokes that occur in the brain that control speech and language. She has to pay a monthly fee for doctor care and support for her speech and wellness.
Richard said a portion of the royalties from a CD released by his band earlier this year will go to Thomas’ finances. Some of their live performances have helped raise about $2,000 for her. Half the proceeds will go to Thomas from the golf tournament honoring Michael in November.
“Christina’s a giver,” Richard said. “She’s always helping out at other charity organizations in town, whether it be a golf tournament, a race, or a walk, she’s always there registering people.”
Although geared toward community projects in his brother’s name and his charity work for Thomas and veterans, Richard finds time to be a family man, drawing from the support his dad Danny, stepmom Norma and late mom Martha gave him while he was raised.
He broke down talking about when Martha passed away and Michael felt the need to return home from his coaching job in New Mexico to be with family. Michael returned to Sunnyside to be the junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach before becoming the head coach at Cholla for a year. The opportunity with Moore at Santa Rita followed.
Richard has been married 28 years to his high school sweetheart Valerie and they have a son Jonathan who is 24 and daughter Jennifer who is 19. Neither pursued sports, although Jonathan was a state champion in youth karate. Both are musicians who play the piano.
Jonathan writes music and Jennifer recently recorded the first song she wrote while a student at Pueblo High School.
“A lot of my family was into music, especially on my mom’s side with either a harmonica, guitar or piano,” Richard said. “When we were really young, my mom would make us sing in front of people, starting like when I was 3.”
A winless record in four years at Santa Rita when faced with the most unfavorable conditions obviously did not define what Michael meant to his players and family.
Michael created resolve in others through life’s challenges. One example was putting the young man from the hallway, inexperienced in baseball, in a position to feel pride in himself from breaking up a no-hitter.
“I want to give back what Mike gave back,” Richard said. “He did a lot when you look back at his time at Sunnyside, Santa Rita and Empire. He did it all for the kids.
“His spirit of giving back to the community is alive. That means a lot to me and our family.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.