The Queen Creek High School baseball team has a whole new atmosphere this season.
Under Mikel Moreno, who’s in his first year as coach, the Bulldogs head into Tuesday’s game against visiting Vista Grande with a 21-4 record.
(Editor’s note: The game is scheduled to begin at 3:45 p.m. April 18 at Queen Creek High School, 22149 E. Ocotillo Road in Queen Creek.)
Moreno technically is in his second season as the head coach. But he was deployed overseas in the military last year.
Moreno joined the Army in 2009, then transitioned to the Arizona National Guard in 2014. He serves as a captain in military intelligence.
Paul Reynolds, the assistant principal and athletic director at Queen Creek High, knew when he hired Moreno before last season that he could be deployed. So he hired both Moreno and his best friend, Andrew Ramirez Jr. This ensured that there was someone to lead the team for the 2016 season.
Moreno was deployed to Kosovo in December 2015. He returned in November 2016. So, last season, Ramirez coached the team. He set a new foundation and structure as the team went 14-15. The players would be ready for this season with Moreno.
“Coach Ramirez, my assistant coach and also my best friend, took over for me. He laid the foundation. He did a great job,” Coach Moreno said.
“Playing for us isn’t a walk in the park,” Coach Moreno added. “So, he (Ramirez) did the dirty work last year and set the way we like to do things.”
Senior third baseman Jacob Kobernick said, “Our team chemistry is awesome. We’re all friends out here, there’s not a single person that’s doesn’t like the other. We just love playing together.”
The coaching staff has a very structured program which it is proving to be quite effective. With Coach Moreno being in the military it isn’t too surprising that he expects a lot from his players.
“He definitely pushes us to be our best,” Kobernick said.
Even though Moreno can be tough at times, his players say that he is what keeps this team together.
“The heart of this team is the coach. He is very enthusiastic,” senior shortstop Kole Kaler said while pointing right at Coach Moreno, who was pitching during warm-ups.
Coach Moreno graduated from Mesa High School in 1994, where he played baseball and football. Then he was a starter for Arizona State University baseball three years, 1996-98.
During his time at ASU, Coach Moreno was an outfielder, helping the Sun Devils to the Atlantic Regional Final in 1997 and the College World Series against Miami in 1998.
He was drafted as a second baseman in the 22nd round of the 1998 amateur draft by the Chicago Cubs.
He played in the Cubs system in 1998-99. His final pro season was in 2000 with the Valley Vipers, an independent team.
In 2004 and 2005, Coach Moreno was the head coach at Florence High School. Then from 2005-09, he was an assistant coach at ASU and South Mountain Community College.
Coach Moreno enlisted in the Army in 2009. He got out of active duty in 2014 and transitioned into the national guard. He taught at San Tan Foothills High School from 2014-15, then got hired at Queen Creek.
“The boys have really adjusted well and they’re doing phenomenal this year,” Coach Moreno said. “They worked really hard in the off-season.”
The Bulldogs have three games left in the regular season.
“I’m looking forward to playing with these kids trying to win a state championship and then maybe play collegiate ball after,” Kobernick said.
Coach Moreno said he’s not looking that far ahead.
“I’m just trying to win today and get better,” he said. “I just try to get better myself, and I want my team to get better today.”
Editor’s note: Through partnership Independent Newspapers is publishing information provided by the Cronkite News.