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“Giving up is not an option” Gila Ridge and AWC star gets called to “The Show”

St. Louis Cardinals call up Irving Lopez, making him the first baseball player from YUHSD to reach a major league roster.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. ( KYMA, KECY-TV ) - It was a moment Irving Lopez was working for and hoping for most of his life.

"When I first got the news my eyes got watery," Lopez said. "I mean, a lot of feelings went through my mind, a lot of thoughts went through my mind. I called my wife, I told her the news and she got excited for me."

Lopez, a 2013 graduate of Gila Ridge High School and a 2015 graduate of Arizona Western College got word last Friday, that his contract with the Memphis Redbirds, a Major League Baseball Triple-A affiliated for the St. Louis Cardinals, was selected by the Major League baseball team.

"He called me and he really doesn’t say anything," Irving's wife Nikki said. "He stares blanking at the phone shaking his head. I’m like what, tell me. He told me, I got the call."

Irving was joining the Cardinals in San Diego for a three game series at Petco Park with the Padres.

Irving Lopez's #55 hangs in Cardinals locker room, photo courtesy James Kuzniak

"The odds of that happening are just insane," Nikki said. "I was able to drive from Yuma to see him. His mom and dad, family and friends were all able to drive to see him. If it was on the other side of the U.S. we don’t know how many people would’ve been able to make it."

Nikki and Irving have known each other since they were in fourth grade and attended grade school together. They were always friends and went to high school together at Gila Ridge High School then Arizona Western College. They started their serious relationship when they were 21, about seven years ago.

"Most people don’t know how rough the minor league life is," Nikki said. "I just tried to support him and be there for him. At any moment they can move you from city to city, so, just trying to kind of ride that wave is something Irving does really well. He has a great mind set, he’s there to play ball, he takes whatever is thrown at him."

Entering last weekend, Lopez was one of 13 YUHSD graduates who had advanced to AAA, the highest level of the minor league baseball system. He is the only one to reach the big leagues.

"His love for baseball is what keeps us going," Nikki said. "We were waiting for the day so it was awesome for him to get that last call."

It was a long journey but giving up was not an option

Irving Lopez

Also making the trip from Yuma was Irving's high school baseball coach and good friend James Kuzniak.

"It's every little kids dream to make it to the major leagues, and it just seems so far away sometimes," Kuzniak said. "I know for Irving, after 10 years it seemed like a really long time. For it to happen is just an amazing feeling. It's something you can't describe, you can't put words to it. Especially when you know the journey and where he came from."

It was a journey that nearly was derailed in his first season at Arizona Western.

"I'm not going to lie to you, in the beginning it was tough," Lopez said. "Giving up was not an option. Playing at Gila Ridge was a huge part, going to AWC. I played different positions, I wanted to play. That's all I wanted, I just wanted to play."

Lopez grinded out his first year at AWC and blossomed as sophomore for the Matadors, batting .423 with 17 doubles and driving in 44 runs. In his two years at AWC, Lopez played in 109 career games, hit .403 with 10 homeruns and 78 RBIs.

"Good thing we had a good year at AWC," Lopez said. "Gave me some options."

One of the options was a collegiate career at Florida International University. Lopez was eventually selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round during the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Now he's getting his first taste of the big leagues.

"There's a lot of pros and cons in baseball you know," Lopez said. "Your size, your speed and everything, they judge you by your looks, but, I never gave up. I'm proud of myself, my family, they just kept pushing me to go forward."

A large cheering entourage made their way to Petco Park Friday night hoping Irving would at some point take the field.

"Stepping into the stadium, seeing him in the dugout signing autographs, it's just unbelievable, unbelievable," Kuzniak said. "Sitting there with Irving's family, his mom, dad, brother, his wife, waiting for him to get into the game was nerve wracking."

Lopez wouldn't take the field on Friday night but the experience was still incredible. After the game, he took pictures with his friends and family and presented his father with a game jersey.

"I mean when I gave it to him it was a special moment," Lopez said. "I saw his face, he's been working with me and my brothers, baseball wise, his entire life. I appreciate everything he's done for me. That was a special moment and a special gift for me to give him back, something at least for all he did for me."

On Saturday morning Irving found out he was going to play.

"When he texted me Saturday morning and said he was in the starting line up, it was just, I don't know how he slept, how he could focus because, me myself, I couldn't focus," Kuzniak said. "Seeing him run out of the dugout, was an amazing feeling. As a coach, as a friend, as someone there from the beginning."

"Super special, I was so nervous, shaking," Nikki said. "I don’t even know how he can do this because I’m so nervous for him. He was definitely nervous but I feel the excitement took over that."

When asked how he was feeling before taking the field, Irving game a fitting baseball answer.

"In the beginning it's like wow, I'm here," Lopez said. "But when you go onto the field you're one of them, you're playing against them, you're trying to beat them."

Lopez shared how some of the Cardinals veterans like Paul Goldschmidt and Adam Wainwright took him under their wing.

"After the game last night {Saturday}, Adam Wainwright came over to me, congratulates me and told me no one is going to take that away from you anymore," Lopez said. "that was a special moment, for a big leaguer, future Hall of Famer tells you that, I mean, goosebumps go through me skin, it's pretty cool, pretty special day."

After the start on Saturday Lopez also started the series finale in San Diego on Sunday. Although he finished 0-7 at the plate, it was still a successful beginning to his Major League career.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you guys," Lopez said. "All the support I got from Gila Ridge, AWC over the last couple of days, it's been awesome, the people from Yuma. It's amazing how a little town can show a lot of support."

"Like I said over and over, just so proud of this guy so happy for him, so happy for his family," Kuzniak said. "So happy for the community of Yuma, that he's the one that gets to represent us. It could not have happened to a better guy."

Article Topic Follows: Local Sports
arizona western college
gila ridge high school
major league baseball
St. Louis Cardinals

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Scott Gross

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