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Desert Ridge honors former player, coach at Hall of Fame Game

Apr. 29—Trent Manzanares and Pat Herrera greeted on another with a long hug along the third base line at Desert Ridge's baseball field.

Their numbers, which Manzanares wore as a four-year starter and Herrera a coach for the Jaguars, hung on the right outfield wall behind them. The two banners, new to the wall this season, represent the past success Desert Ridge has had as a baseball program. Other names sit alongside theirs on the wall, too.

But on Monday, April 22, it was all about Manzanares and Herrera. It was their time to be honored for all the blood, sweat and tears they put into the Desert Ridge program.

"People have recognized what we've done," said Herrera, who is now the head coach at Desert Vista. "That's what means the most. The guys that came back, Jake Barrett, Alex Villar, those guys. It means something to see them back here."

Herrera built the Desert Ridge program from the ground up.

The school was new with few developments around it in far east Mesa. A major contrast to what the surrounding communities look like now. He was a young coach looking to establish himself and the program in one of the state's top divisions for high school baseball. That's when he met Manzanares.

He was just a freshman at the time, but his skill level was well advanced for his age. He was named the starting shortstop in his first high school season. He never relinquished the position.

He helped Herrera establish a foundation at Desert Ridge, one that centered around out-working opponents and each other every day. The Jaguars found success early, making playoff runs with Manzanares and a handful of others who were on hand for the Hall of Fame Game leading the way.

Herrera expected the most from his players. He joked that he was the reason for Manzanares' arm and back issues that derailed his career just two seasons in at Gateway Community College. Manzanares, however, said Herrera brought the best out in him during a troubling time in his life.

"He was like another dad to me," Manzanares said. "He was the first person to push me harder than anyone else did. I was out of control, and he was the first one to put me in my place. I looked up to him for that. It's because of him I was even looked at to go to college. I would do anything for the guy."

Herrera went on to win two titles with Desert Ridge after Manzanares graduated. While he refused to take credit, Herrera said Manzanares and his class laid the framework and set the expectations that other players followed, which helped lead to the two state titles.

But the time together was impactful, nonetheless. That's why Joseph Ponce felt it was necessary to honor the two at their annual Hall of Fame Game, which happened to fall on the day of the last game of the season. Desert Vista also happened to be the opponent.

Honoring Herrera was the main motive for Ponce. He has a tremendous amount of respect for the Desert Vista skipper. In many ways, he's been a mentor to the young coach during region meetings.

Ponce also knows how much Herrera means to the Desert Ridge community. So, honoring him alongside Manzanares was easy. It also came the same season Herrera surpassed 400 wins as a head coach.

"I want to do something to honor past players and to honor the community for welcoming me in," Ponce said. "Normally, it's a staple early in our season but playing DV at the end, it worked out well. This means something to the people on this wall. In a program like Desert Ridge, it's bigger than just me. It's the whole community."

Desert Vista beat Desert Ridge Monday night. But the win seemed to take a backseat for the special night it was for both programs.

Both made the playoffs. Desert Vista clinched a top-eight seed and home field advantage. Desert Ridge went on the road. Most importantly, more names were added to the outfield wall.

Herrera stopped short of shedding tears during the ceremony before first pitch. But he was hesitant to say he wouldn't have some tears after the game concluded.

"I fought it for a long time," Herrera said of being honored by Desert Ridge. "But it means a lot. I built this from the ground up. There was nothing here. So it really means a lot."

Manzanares said he never imagined he would be honored in such a way by his high school. But to now look out and see his name on the wall forever — especially alongside his coach and former teammates — it's special.

"We were counted out for four years," Manzanares said. "Nobody believed in what we could build here. So, to do it with Herrera, it meant the world."

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.