Bryan Huie didn’t coach a single baseball game last week, but few coaches in Arizona had a better week.
His former catcher, Cesar Salazar, had six hits for Arizona and became the UA’s leading hitter, .373 for the season.
Huie’s former second baseman, Nick Gonzalez, went 7 for 11 at New Mexico State to punch his batting average to .422, leading Western Athletic Conference regulars.
Max Smith and Nick Ames, who played for Huie’s Baseball’s Next Level academy, combined to get 11 hits, 12 RBIs and four home runs for UNLV. They had six RBIs in a victory over Arizona State. Smith is now hitting .385. Ames leads the Mountain West Conference with eight home runs.
Another of Huie’s BNL players, Sahuarita High School junior Jose Dicochea — who has committed to play for Arizona — raised his batting average to .383 with six hits last week.
And the happy news just kept coming: Eric Migueles, another Huie product, broke into Utah’s starting lineup as the regular rightfielder; Troy Gutbub leads Pima College in wins and strikeouts; Sabino’s Preston Clifford, who has led the Sabercats to a 13-2 record, is hitting .400 and is also 4-0 as a pitcher with 48 strikeouts in 30 innings. He’s another BNL product.
Huie is like a proud papa times 104. That’s how many of his Baseball’s Next Level academy are climbing the baseball ladder. Here’s the current count:
- 33 are playing Division I college baseball.
- 24 are playing Division II or Division II.
- 5 are playing NAIA baseball.
- 42 are playing junior college baseball.
- Minor-leaguers like Yankees prospects Donny Sands and Jio Orozco played for BNL.
This isn’t an accident or just good karma.
Huie coached Sahuarita High School to the 2005 state baseball championship. Then the former Mountain View High School left-hander chose to leave high school baseball and work in administration. How did it work? He is the principal of Mission Manor Elementary School.
But Huie is also a scout for the New York Yankees and in 2014 opened Baseball’s Next Level academy for ballplayers aged 12-18, which has been a robust success in Southern Arizona.
“When I pitched in the minor leagues, for Seattle, I had a 95 mph fastball but I just couldn’t throw enough strikes; it didn’t click for me,” says Huie. “But coaching and helping develop young ballplayers, that clicks. Helping these kids has become my heart and soul.”
Huie isn’t one of those notorious AAU-type, travel ball desperadoes. He has surrounded himself with some of Tucson’s leading baseball names, such as Sabino coach Mark Chandler and CDO assistant Dustin Kupper, and those who’ve played at BNL in the summer and fall are now playing everywhere from Wayland Baptist to Pomona Pitzer.
Younger players in the BNL have accepted 2018-19 scholarships to Texas Tech, New Mexico State, Grand Canyon, Arizona and a dozen smaller baseball schools.
After Nick Gonzales hit .543 for Cienega last fall, he attracted scholarship interest from Cincinnati and Austin Peay and several West Coast schools. He chose New Mexico State, where he is hitting .422 as a freshman.
“I’ve said this for a while, Nick played for a lot of good coaches over the years, but as far as helping Nick get into college, Bryan was the guy who did everything he could to help,” Mike Gonzales, Nick’s father, said.
“What did Bryan and Nick do different? He works his butt off for the kids. We went to Nashville for a tournament and Bryan was out there talking to all the college coaches about Nick, before and after the game. He arranged for the coaches to watch Nick take extra batting practice. We spent three years with Bryan. It was all positive.”
Huie wasn’t a top prospect himself. He played at Westark Junior College and then Lubbock Christian. He returned to Arizona and was the head coach at Kearny Ray High School, then earned a masters degree at NAU. He moved to Sahuarita, got married, had two kids became a school administrator and was hired first by the Chicago White Sox, and then the Yankees, as a scout.
He laughs when asked what he does with his free time.
“This is a crazy journey, but I love it,” he says. “Baseball is my hobby. It replaces hunting and fishing.
“I take a lot of pride in not making this too expensive for anyone. We’re the cheapest baseball academy in the state. It’s $600 a year, and that covers four tournaments, 27 practices in the summer, uniforms, you name it. We’ve been fortunate to get local sponsors like the Conquistadores. On our annual scout day last summer we had 14 college coaches come to Tucson.”
At this time last year, Huie was following the progress of lefty pitcher Trevor Rogers, who made the 480-mile, one-way, drive from Carlsbad, New Mexico, to be part of the BNL program.
Rogers became the No. 1 draft pick of the Miami Marlins, No. 13 overall. He received a $3.7 million signing bonus.
“That’s the payoff,” says Huie. “That’s the best part of the job.”