45 years ago on Sunday, May 15, 1977, Richard Contreras, a skilled left-handed pitcher for the Uvalde Coyotes baseball team, was preparing for the District 13-3A playoff series against the Pleasanton Eagles, the biggest season in Uvalde history high school
UHS had just won the West Zone title with a 5-1 win over Fredericksburg, with Richard playing an integral part in the win.
On Sunday May 15, 2022, Contreras lost his battle with diabetes, which he had been struggling with for the past several years. He was 63 years old.
Baseball coaches and managers love lefties because there are few. Batters look different when using lefties as pitchers. Therefore, when the kids show up for Little League, it’s almost certain they’ll be seen as pitching prospects. While left-handers are considered a commodity, their playing positions are limited to first base or outfield.
Contreras was no different. He was a pitcher from day one, and he accepted the role and dedicated himself to mastering that position. He didn’t have the blazing fastball, so he focused on breaking balls, mastering off-speed pitches and the art of control. Along the way, he went on to become a reliable pitcher in Little League, the Babe Ruth League, and then one of the greatest pitchers in Uvalde Coyote history.
“Silent but deadly,” was the reply from one of Richard’s teammates, Bo Alderson. “By that I mean that Richard was a quiet man, but as soon as he stepped onto that hill he was a fierce competitor. Richard cared about others and always put them first. He was closer than a brother.”
“That big smile!” were the first words Steve Cargil used to describe Richard. “We were on the same little league team as 8-year-olds and teammates through high school. He made everyone else better, whether on the field as a competitor or in the daily activities of life. Richard was a quiet person and very humble.”
Tad Neutze was the coyote catcher during Contreras’ junior and senior seasons.
“Sneaky” was the first word he used to describe Richard. “He had the left-handed curve ball that kept fooling the batsmen. They knew it was coming, but it looked so much like a throw outside the strike zone. But at the last moment it caught a corner. He left little pitch down the center of the plate, and the pitches for the batsmen to contact usually resulted in grounders or softfly balls. Catching him was pleasant, like a day at the park!”
Neutze admired Richard so much for how he fought his illness.
“He has been gallant in his efforts by exercising and watching his diet. He was fighting it all the time.”
Pitchers like Contreras often go unnoticed, so there were no scholarship offers, but he tried his hand at St. Mary’s University as an errand boy. “He didn’t make it, but I think it encouraged him to go into the coaching business,” Neutze added.
Teammates who speak of Contreras often utter the word “consistency”. Greg Kolinek, star shortstop on the state championship team, said “model of consistency” was the first word he spoke of Richard.
“Every time I think of baseball, I think of Richard,” says Kolinek. “He was such a wonderful teammate and had this cool attitude about him. Pressure never seemed to bother him, in fact I think he thrived on it.
“Richard was more than a good athlete. He was a great husband, a great role model for everyone but especially for the younger generation.
“He walked out in a glow of glory after he saved the first game in the state tournament and then went out and threw a six-hitter and only used 80 pitches because he wasn’t walking anyone. Uvalde won 9-1.”
Kolinek was also selected to the All Tournament Team with Contreras and four other Coyotes: Neutze, Cargil, Tommy Ellinger and Steve Rambie.
“Richard was so consistent in everything he did, in athletics, in school and in his professional life,” said teammate Vann McElroy.
“I will never forget an afternoon after training. The pitchers had to run after practice and it wasn’t just a fun part of practice. We were pushed hard!” said McElroy. “I was very tired. Richard came up to me after one of the many sprints and put his arm around me and said, ‘We’re going to need your strong arm on stage!’
“Richard had a sense of confidence and it rubbed off on others. It could make you feel good and it was a calming effect that athletes need during stressful times,” McElroy said. “There were times when my attitude got me in trouble when I was on the hill. I wanted to bring it and of course sometimes when you throw over you lose control. I would load the bases via walks and with no outs, Coach (Dan) Matocha Richard would call to get me out of trouble. Richard would knock out the first batter and then get the next batter to bat in a double play.
“His calming effect during athletic competition carried over into his relationships with students and people in general,” McElroy said. “We’ve lost a good man!”
Personally, I have many stories surrounding Richard Contreras from the Little League through the 1977 Class AAA State Baseball Tournament and the connection I had with him while he was employed as an instructor at Uvalde CISD.
Richard was a unique individual and you just don’t meet her very often. He was a quiet, gentle person and hardly murmured a word and never complained. As far as Richard was concerned, a job wasn’t over until it was done and he wasn’t going to give up or give up hope until that last moment. He modeled that attitude on me during his junior season in high school baseball when I had the privilege of coaching the 1976 Coyotes.
Earlier in the season, the Coyotes competed in the San Felipe Del Rio baseball tournament. We made it to the consolation championship game with Eagle Pass. In the 11th inning of a tie ball game, Contreras was still on the mound.
The Eagles took the lead with an unearned run. But the Coyotes came back and scored two runs in their part of the innings to win the game when Tommy Inman delivered with a two-run double.
About the sixth or seventh inning, I mentioned to Richard that he should extend his stay on the mound. It was early in the year and I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone for fear of later arm problems. So at the end of every inning I would ask if he was okay, and he always was same answer.
Gene Alejandro was his motivator as my question was always answered by Geno declaring, “He’s not even sweating, Coach!”
Richard Contreras’ motto was that the game isn’t over until the job is done.
That’s how the Uvalde Coyotes ended the 1977 season. Contreras saved the first game as they defeated Waco Midway and Andy Hawkins 4-3 to gain promotion to championship competition.
Then coach Matocha sent Contreras to the mound to close out the “Cinderella season”. He did it in style, a full game 9-1 win and the Class AAA State Baseball Championship. He was also selected to the All Tournament Team.