September 23, 2021
Estevan De La O didn’t know he had won the Gold Glove until his friends posted about it on Instagram.
The New Mexico Highlands senior received the national award for National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II teams for 2021.
De La O is one of just nine outfielders among 263 Division II schools to receive the Gold Glove, which is chosen each year by the American Baseball Coaching Association and Rawlings Sporting Goods. De La O plays centerfield and he attributes his defensive skills to a combination of talent and hard work.
“Each ball I catch is put out, that’s what it’s called. I had 125 chances to make a play, basically,” said De La O. “I had 122 put outs and three assists and no errors. if you look at the other outfielders who won Gold Gloves—I just had way more put outs than anyone.”
De La O has been playing baseball since he was 4 years old, starting with Little League, moving up to travel ball and high school baseball, and playing for New Mexico Military Institute before transferring to Highlands. He said his dad played shortstop for the University of New Mexico Lobos.
“Baseball has been in my blood,” said De La O. “Last summer, before I got to school, my dad would get me out there hitting me fly balls every day—55 balls a day. That definitely helps a lot.”
Natural ability and good coaching have also played a part, and De La O said he is grateful for the coaching he’s received at New Mexico Military Institute and at Highlands.
“A lot of it is just instinct, my anticipation,” said De La O. “But Coach (Shannon) Hunt put me in the right spot, positioning me where I should be. That always helps, too. It’s a combination for sure.”
Although he has been playing baseball his whole life, De La O said it hasn’t always been an easy path.
“I haven’t always enjoyed baseball—I’ve struggled with it for sure. When I was in junior college, I struggled,” said De La O. “I never would have thought I would have won this award, if you saw me play at junior college.”
De La O said that between being away from home for the first time and the structured isolation, military school was a tough environment. Some days he’d play well, and others he said he took a nosedive, which made him question whether he wanted to keep playing.
“If you succeed 3 out of 10 times, you’re one of the top players in the game,” said De La O. “So, it’s a game of failure at the end of the day. I think when you realize that, and you realize just how hard of a sport it is, that’s when you can just put it into perspective more.”
De La O said both his coaches helped him in ways they are not aware of.
“I just kept at it. And then I came into Highlands with a really positive attitude and told myself I was going to keep working,” said De La O. “Right now, I’m in a really good place with the sport and I look forward to practice and look forward to everything.”
Hunt, Highlands’ head baseball coach, describes De La O as a reliable, accountable player.
“He’s an early-out guy and a stay-late guy working on his craft,” said Hunt. “He’s always working in the cage, and he’s always here early and he doesn’t have to be told anything. He’s been that way since day one.”
Like De La O, Hunt describes baseball as a game of failure and said De La O’s ability to shake off the failure is what contributes to his successes.
“He definitely has the makeup of a professional,” said Hunt. “He’s in the moment of whatever is happening. When he’s in the field, he doesn’t carry with him the fact that he’s struck out. He has a pretty good understanding of what he’s trying to accomplish on a daily basis.”
According to Hunt, players like De La O don’t need to be coached—they just need to be pointed in the right direction. Hunt said he wasn’t surprised that De La O was awarded the Gold Glove but he was pleasantly surprised that the judges were truly only looking at defense rather than including batting averages.
“When you have 125 chances and you make zero errors, that needs to be recognized,” said Hunt. “It’s the same trophy they give to the bigwigs—the same one.”
According to the American Baseball Coaching Association, collegiate teams have been receiving Gold Glove awards since 2007. Hunt said that although Highlands players have occasionally won second or third place for the Gold Glove, De La O’s trophy is the first national Gold Glove a player has received.
For De La O, the Gold Glove trophy represents the achievement of his goal to be a solid defensive player.
“To win this, is like, wow. I achieved the goal,” said De La O. “Also, that is last season though. Now this season, I’ve got to improve and do it again. I think we can make a little noise this year and show them what we’re about and that we belong up there in the top teams.”