RIO RANCHO — After more than a quarter-century of baseball at Rio Rancho High School, the only coach the Rams have ever had decided it’s time to honor former players and key contributors to the program’s success, which has included four state championships.

In the not-too-distant future, a large frame will be placed outside the Ken Todd Clubhouse, near the door to Murphy’s office, with tags denoting each wall of famer. And they’re not all former players; in fact, three of them have never thrown a pitch or swung a bat at a Rams’ ballgame.

“I’ve been going to these national (baseball) clinics, and you always hear about people honor their past. I’ve always been big on alumni since I’ve been here,” Murphy explained. “I felt like it was time … 25 years of the baseball program, that we honor the ones that have started this program and excelled and exceeded expectations of any player, or community member, as they go through the program.

“It just felt like it was time,” he said. “We thought like we had a lot of catching up to do.”

Here is the esteemed list of the first wall of fame class (Players’ graduation year in parentheses):

  • Ben (Frye) Barnett (2001): The ace of the staff when he was with the Rams, and he went to the University of New Mexico to pitch. “He was lights-out; probably our best strikeout pitcher we ever had,” Murphy said. “Ben was always good for that 3-2 strikeout; his fame was he could always throw the 3-2 curveball for a strike.”
  • Ray Chavez: A former pitching coach “here for quite a while” who passed away while (in 2016 at the age of 43) an assistant. Chavez still has a parking space near the field.
  • Richard Chavez: One of the first honorees selected by Murphy, and then added to the WOF committee. He’s been with the program since Day 1, also, hired to coach the program at Eagle Ridge Middle School. “He was one of my very first hires. He’s never left,” Murphy said. “He’s been here as a parent – he had two kids play for me; he’s been here as a scorekeeper, as a coach and develop my middle school program.”
  • Justin Esquibel (2005): “One of our best catchers to come out of our program” lauded Murphy. “A leader. Justin is also an ex-coach for us … still with the State Police.” In the early 2000s, when former Rio Rancho resident Brendan Donnelly was a reliever for the Anaheim Agels, Esquibel used to catch for him before he headed to Tempe for spring training.
  • Anthony Haase (2008): Another one-time ace of the staff who was drafted by the Texas Rangers, went to Cochise Junior College, and later played pro baseball for a few seasons and then returned to Rio Rancho, where he joined the police force. On an October night In 2014, he was killed on Idalia while on his way to a call.
  • Carl Hohsfield (2000): The first Division I signee. “He signed with UNM,” Murphy said. “As far as I know, he’s got the all-time (single season) batting average of .660. He was just phenomenal: He could hit for average, he could hit for power, he could run, but what he really did well was leadership.”
  • Gary Hveem: “Obviously, he’s the grandfather of every athletic program here on campus, but especially the baseball program,” said Murphy. Hveem, Murphy said, was in attendance for Murphy’s final game as the St. Pius X baseball coach, which ended in a championship game loss in 1997. “He saw me tearing up in front of the dugout – saw tears in my eyes – and he knew I had a passion for the game.”
  • Josh LaCombe (2000): “He hated to lose; he wanted to win,” Murphy recalled of this inaugural Ram player, now an assistant coach. “He wasn’t necessarily a starter every game, but he was the loudest one in the dugout, always knew his role. When he played, he did the little things, (like) bunting people over.”
  • Tony Otero: “He was on board from Day 1,” Murphy said. “He doesn’t know the word ‘no.’ I tell him all the time, ‘You can say the word no. He has a lot of heart.” Added former Rio Rancho Mayor John Jennings: “Tony hit the ground running 25 years ago and never looked back! I wouldn’t venture a guess an to how many high schoolers had their first job serving Dairy Queen ice cream! Tony is the definition of a booster — in more ways than one.”
  • Sal Puentes (2002): “Our starting shortstop and pitcher. He could hit for average, he could run, he could steal. He might be one of the best five-tool players we’ve ever had out here.” Puentes, who also played basketball at RRHS, was tragically killed in a DWI accident in Grant County in 2007; there is an annual tournament at RRHS that carries his name.,
  • Steve Solwick (1999): The first true ace on the team, and a guy drafted twice by the Chicago Cubs. “He went into the army; decided to serve his country instead of going to the draft to play Major League Baseball. … He was the go-to guy that first year (1998).”
  • Blake Swihart (2011): He started his prep career with the Rams, then headed to Cleveland after it opened in 2009 because the family resided in Enchanted Hills, part of the CHS district. After starring for the Storm as a switch-hitting catcher, he was a first-round draft pick of the Boston red Sox in 2011 and played professionally for five seasons, which included 234 MLB games.
  • Josh Walker (2010): Another Ram who went on to play at UNM, and then played a few seasons of professional baseball in the Baltimore Orioles’ system. “He was on two state championship teams (2007, ’09). He was our ace for quite a while, and an outfielder; he batted third in our lineup. Another guy that we went to battle with when we had to win. He was the guy, team leader,” Murphy recalled. “He never backed down from any team.”

Murphy said there is no specific list of criteria for the WOF committee to review, although those with “a positive impact on the program in any dimension, whether it be players, community, administration, coaches – we didn’t want to limit it.”

He welcomes nominations for future classes at [email protected], with another dozen or so expected to be made up of the second half of the program’s existence. The committee will grow in size, he said, as anyone from this inaugural class interested in serving on it to determine future members is invited to join.

Murphy said plans include a sit-down dinner for inductees, who will also be invited to 2024 Rams home games to be introduced to the fans.

A few other ideas for this wall of fame: Something to denote the Rams’ myriad community projects, namely five with Rams ballplayers helping senior citizens with yardwork and other chores, a basic extension of RRHS’s Big Event; the annual toy drive, which takes place prior to Christmas and helps some underprivileged youngsters in the area receive gifts; holding baseball camps, also for youngsters, and cooperating with Cibola Little League to hold opening day festivities at the Rams’ ballpark.