Fuego's Jesus Chavez is a home-grown hitter

Jun. 26—For the past 11 years of his baseball career, Jesus Chavez has had the best view of a game — from the field.

Ever since he started on the Española Valley varsity team as an eighth grader in 2011, Chavez has never spent much time on the bench — other than for the half inning when the rest of his team hit and the rare day off. From his five-year career as a Sundevil to stints at Otero Junior College, the University of the Southwest and New Mexico Highlands University — and now for two seasons with the Santa Fe Fuego — Chavez's place has been on the field.

"As far as a bench role, I've never really experienced that," Chavez said.

And why should he? As a professional, Chavez has a cumulative .358 batting average with the Fuego. He has a .368 average this season and a team-best six home runs. His 26 RBIs rank second for Santa Fe, which is 12-6 three weeks into the Pecos League season.

Chavez is a key cog in a Fuego offense that is leading the league in hitting (.364) and has scored the fourth most runs with 225. It's an offense where the load is shared by everybody in the lineup, which Chavez said makes it easier to stay relaxed and focused.

"We have a lot of guys that can carry the offense," Chavez said. "So it does take a lot of pressure off of us hitters knowing that, you know, if we don't have success, anyone on any given day will step up."

Chavez has consistently been a part of the answer for his team — even if he hails from a town known more for its roundball than its hardball. Chavez said he fell into the clutches of basketball as a middle schooler, mainly because of his friends. But baseball was his one true love, and it is a family institution. His father, Manuel Chavez Sr., played it, as did his other brother, Manuel Chavez Jr.

The younger brother got started at age 4 and routinely played on Little League and club teams with Manuel Jr. The younger Chavez said competing at a higher level growing up helped him develop at a faster rate.

"I played varsity as an eighth grader," Chavez said. "So, when I got to my freshman and sophomore year, I already felt like a like a veteran. I felt like I've been there for a few years already, so it definitely was an advantage."

Chavez was a part of the best run of success the Sundevils have had over the past 20 years. Española reached the state tournament three times during Chavez's five seasons and almost advanced to the Class 5A (now 4A) semifinals in his senior year. Chavez was among the state's leaders in RBI that year and was the District 2-5A co-player of the year. He parlayed his success to a spot in Otero's baseball program in La Junta, Colo.

It didn't take long for Chavez to show off his skills, batting .294 as a freshman in 2016 and driving in 36 runs for the Rattlers as a sophomore. His performance caught the attention of the University of the Southwest, where he spent a year with the program before transferring to NMHU.

Chavez showed how much he had developed in the shortened 2020 season, as he led the Cowboys with 10 RBIs and tied for the team lead with three homers in just 10 games with a .313 average. When NMHU resumed play in 2021, Chavez finished third on the team with 31 RBIs while hitting .298.

It was a fruitful debut with the Fuego, as he batted .351 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs in just 24 games once he graduated from NMHU. Chavez found the pitching he saw in the Pecos League was similar to what he saw in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, the difference being the approach professional pitchers used.

"You've got some arms [in the Pecos League] that are a little bit more matured as far as their approach and the way they pitch you," Chavez said. "The velocity, the quality of pitches is about the same. It's just the execution."

After a long 2021 season, Chavez said a big change to his preparation for this season wasn't anything on the field — he attacked his eating habits. He eschewed fast food and focused on eating healthier to keep him in the best shape possible for the daily grind. It helped that he was living at home with his family and he was 20 minutes from the ballpark.

"I had a pretty bad diet in a lot of junk food and a lot of fast food," Chavez said. "I should have been a little bit better preparing meals that help me with energy. Eating a lot cleaner helped me feel a lot better."

It showed right from the outset, hitting three homers in the first four games while driving in nine runs. While he hasn't continued the power output at the same rate, Chavez has been a model of consistency at the plate. He has yet to go two consecutive games without getting a hit and went on a streak of six straight games with an RBI that ended Friday, even though the Fuego won 24-15.

Chavez made up for that by going 3-for-5 with three runs scored.

While the diet has been crucial to his success, he also attributed his performance to keeping things simple at the plate.

"I'm not a big mechanical guy," Chavez said. "I'm a feel guy, so if something feels off, I'll work and work on it until it feels natural or better. I think baseball, just like anything else, it can be as difficult as you make or as simple as you make it.

"And I, I really, really push to make it as simple as I can make it."

And keeping the game simple has kept Chavez on the field — 11 years and going.