by Mike Whaley
PORTSMOUTH – After a 20-year hiatus, college baseball is returning to the Seacoast.
Earlier this week, Great Bay Community College announced the hiring of Rochester’s Enrique “Kike” Calero as the program’s first baseball coach. The Herons will play in the Yankee Small College Conference beginning this fall.
The last year the Seacoast had college baseball was 1997 when the University of New Hampshire completed its final season before the NCAA Division I program was discontinued.
Calero, 45, a native of Isabela, Puerto Rico, is a life-long baseball man. He came to the United States in 1990, recruited to play baseball for Rend Lake College, a junior college in Illinois. He played two seasons for Rend Lake and signed a major league contract with the Houston Astros in 1991. He played in their organization until 1993, and played independent baseball until 1998.
Caldero spent the last 20 years staying connected with the game as a high school and college assistant coach, a college recruiter, an agent, a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays, and a coach of elite youth teams.
“There is an absolute need for this,” Calero said. “There are so many players that come from different programs in the Seacoast, Maine, parts of Massachusetts. There’s a lot of guys I’m sending to community colleges all over the country.”
Calero said, “What’s nice is that this is not a club team, but a team that actually competes in a league, a conference.”
The Herons will play in the YSCC with teams from NHTI, Southern Maine Community College, and Central Maine CC. The league has a spring and a fall season. The spring season is more intensive with a conference tournament at the end of the regular season, where the conference winner advances to the USCAA Championships – scheduled for this May in Glen Falls, N.Y.
“Right now I’m recruiting,” Calero said. “But we will start in the fall of 2017.”
Calero said the school has several options for a field, one of which is to build its own. “We’ll see what happens with that,” he said. “But we will have a field by the fall.”
Calero has spent time as a coach in recent years with the USA Mavericks program, Seacoast United, and this past year as an assistant at Spaulding High School.
“There are a lot of kids who quit (baseball) after high school,” he said. “Or they go to a place they’ve never seen before and get home sick and don’t even know what a college athlete needs to do. They’re not ready. Or guys who go to a four-year school and sit for three years and play one year. There’s guys like that all over. Not just here, but all over.”
Calero says he sees plenty of talent in the Seacoast area.
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“At Spaulding I am probably able to recruit three or four kids who need an extra year to get stronger, get better and then go to a four-year school,” he said.
“I think area people have a bad opinion of community colleges,” Calero said. “I went to community college straight from Puerto Rico to a (school) in Illinois and from there graduated from the University of Missouri (with a bachelor’s degree in biology). I am not afraid of community college baseball. There’s so much people can get from community college.”
Like Kike Calero did.
He listed the positives: good education, less expensive, you can get an associates degree after two years, live at home, work a job.
And, of course, play baseball.
Calero lives in Rochester with his wife, Becky, and their sons, Keagan and Dawson. Since 2000, Calero has worked for Sysco Corporation. He is a regional marketing manager.
Calero can’t imagine having made it in this country without the opportunities supplied by a two-year school like Rend Lake.
“If it wasn’t for Rend Lake, this never would have happened,” said Calero, who came to the U.S. unable to speak a word of English. “They worked with me. I took English as a second language. They wanted me to get better. I was a good student. I did the work even though I didn’t know the language. It wasn’t easy. You (have to) put in the work. I still have baseball work for me all these years later.
“I knew I wanted to play here,” he said. “I knew I wanted to play professionally. This was my chance to come and I wasn’t going to say ‘no’ to it.”
Now, in a sense like 1990 when he left his native Puerto Rico for the U.S., Calero’s starting from square one again.
“I’m a head coach and starting my own program from scratch, from something that’s not even there” he said. “I’m not saying we’re going to win it all. But I would love to have a competitive team that makes the Seacoast area proud.”