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SPECIAL REPORT: The Desert’s Diamond Dynasty

Two local coaches tackle a long distance relationship while raising a family and chasing a dream together

EL CENTRO, Calif. ( KYMA, KECY-TV ) - Stephanie first started hanging out with Ruben Niebla while both attended Imperial Valley College.

"We were both at IVC as student athletes," Stephanie Niebla recalls." "He was playing baseball and I was playing softball. The two teams just hung out together and that’s how we met."

The two kept in contact as Ruben furthered his baseball playing career at Asuza Pacific University.

"It’s always a dream for any youngster right," Ruben Niebla said. "Everyone pictures themselves playing Major League Baseball on tv."

Ruben was well on his way, as a junior transfer for the Cougars, Niebla earned NAIA District Player of the Year, All-GSAC first team and an NAIA All-American honorable mention.

Ruben was signed by the Montreal Expos just before the 1995 baseball draft. Despite the distance, Ruben and Stephanie continued their relationship.

"We just kind of learned how to balance our relationship," Stephanie said. "It was a lot of trust, a lot of communication."

Ruben bounced around the minor league circuits for over five years before he decided to retire and pursue coaching.

"Some of us have different paths," Ruben said. "Mine was a coaching path so I’m pretty happy about that."

"That’s when we got married and started a family, raising a family," Stephanie said. "It’s difficult at times for the most part, with me coaching in high school."

Stephanie made a name for herself in the Imperial Valley as one of the top high school softball coaches across the desert southwest. She coached the Southwest Eagles for 28 years before hanging up her cleats last year.

"Everyone knows my wife a little bit better back home," Ruben said. "This is her first year taking a little, I call it a sabbatical probably. My son is going to be a sophomore at Southwest High School so yeah, the family enjoys the game, softball and baseball. My daughter played softball as well, my son baseball, it’s part of us."

While Stephanie made a name for herself locally, Ruben was doing the same thing in the Cleveland Guardians baseball system as a coach for close to 20 years.

"It seems tougher than it is," Stephanie said. "I’ve had a lot of support from my family, they help me with everything in getting through this time of being apart. For the most part it was just the support we gave each other."

It also helped that both are coaches.

"We’re pretty much each other’s first phone call after a game, win or lose," Stephanie said. "I know if it’s been a bad game to just wait for him to call me, he knows the same."

Finally, on October 27th, 2021, the Niebla family got the news they had worked so hard for. Sacrificed for and hoped one day would come. The San Diego Padres named Ruben as the team's pitching coach.

"We’ve been tremendously blessed," Stephanie said. "He was with Cleveland for so many years so when this opportunity came about, it was always kind of a dream. So when it happened it was kind of like, wow, we’re really going to be together all the time now."

"It makes it easier for her now to make it to San Diego, even on days she’s working," Ruben said. "When she gets off she’ll drive up and see a game which is pretty cool."

"We still get excited," Stephanie said. "The kids still get excited when we’re home watching the game but it's been one big blessing and thank God we have God in our life. He’s watched over us all these years and this is the big reward."

Ruben says a lot of what happens in our life isn't only due to timing, but being ready for when those doors open.

"Even if you are there you have to be prepared to do it and walk through that door," Ruben said. "Hopefully it’s the persistence and the growth mindset of continuing to learn, wanting to be better. I think that’s one of the reasons of me being here."

"You’ve got to follow your dream," Stephanie said. "It’s always there to reach and grab. It’s hard work, it’s dedication, it’s what you’re doing when nobody is watching and how much you really love the game."

"It’s been really cool coaching in San Diego and the fan support has been awesome," Ruben said. "The people commuting out here from Yuma and the Imperial Valley it’s really cool, I hear it all the time. I do hear you guys I just have to stay focused on my job."  



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Scott Gross

Scott Gross joins the KYMA team as the Anchor, CBS Sports Director, and Executive Producer.

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