BY NICK ROBINSON
JOHNSTOWN — As I waited to interview Greeley Grays owner Gil Carbajal, I couldn’t help but notice his interaction with every single person at Nelson Farm.
He kept me waiting about 15 minutes in between games.
But, I didn’t mind.
His grace and care for every person was inspiring. He even went into the opposing team’s dugout to make sure they were even taken care of.
That’s just the kind of person he is.
“I just enjoy helping young men become better men,” Carbajal explained. “I don’t have to be doing this. I am 83 years old; I could be doing other things.”
Carbajal got his start with the Grays, as a player, from 1952-1968.
“It was a semi-pro team when I played,” he said. “In the 1950’s, college kids from Colorado State College started to come play for us.”
However, Greeley had a hiatus of baseball, which started in 1970.
“The league we were in fell apart in 1970 because of the Vietnam War,” Carbajal said. “That’s when it was red hot. A lot of kids were being drafted right out of high school. If they didn’t go to college, they got drafted. We didn’t have enough players for a league – so that’s when the Rocky Mountain League fell apart.”
Even though the squad wasn’t actively playing, Carbajal arranged reunions of his former teammates during the summer – to keep the tradition alive.
“We had annual get togethers that the older guys would partake in,” he said. “There weren’t very many summer collegiate teams until that time, in the mid 2000’s.”
Then, in 2004, he received a phone call.
“A gentleman from Denver called me and said he wanted to start a team in Greeley and call them the Grays,” Carbajal said. “We agreed and put things together and resuscitated the Grays in 2005.”
Since joining the Mile High Collegiate Baseball League, the Grays have went on to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas four times.
“The Grays are a part of my life and a part of my heart,” Carbajal said. “I fell in love with the Grays in 1948 as just a kid. To go to Wichita with the Grays was just tremendous. It was a very proud moment, when we went for the first time in 2010.”
How has Carbajal kept the vision of the Grays of the 1950’s and 1960’s alive?
“Our philosophy is simple,” he said. “We want to help to help these young men become great at communication and relationship skills. Number two is to help them strengthen their character. Number three is sharpen their baseball skills and number four is provide first class baseball. It’s just a joy to watch these kids develop in such a short time.”
Having a staff that understands the concept makes things easier, as well.
“The entire staff – general manager, business manager, historian, coaches – they know the philosophy,” Carbajal said. “And it’s just passed on. It’s not just one person, it’s the entire staff of about eight of us. It’s a good philosophy to like.”
Carbajal admitted the toughest part of the job is conscripting a roster each season.
“The toughest part is recruiting,” he said. “It’s tough, because, there were six teams, and it’s moved to 11 teams. We are all basically after the same kids. You need to start recruiting in September. That’s the way it should be. The competition makes everyone better.”
As a member of the MHCBL, Carbajal feels the association is headed in the right direction.
“The thing I am very happy about with this league is that we are into our 14th season, and we are still here,” he said. “There have been some challenges. It’s been good management, cooperation, and good people. That’s what it takes. The league is growing and going in the right direction.”
And for the future of the Grays?
“Our goal is to make it 100 years, in 2025,” Carbajal said. “Next year will be 95 years. Gabe and Jody Lopez wrote a book about the Grays, and that’s in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Although he hasn’t been to the Hall of Fame yet, Carbajal plans to travel to the nation’s capital next year, where the Smithsonian Institution will have a Latino baseball exhibit – where the Grays will be featured.
“Tradition, camaraderie, history, great ballplayers and relationships,” he said. “A lot of fun over the years. It just shows how much history has been involved with this program.”
When asked if a specific person comes to mind that he has helped grow, he grinned and said, ‘too many come to mind’.
“So many of these young men stay in touch with us,” Carbajal said. “During the offseason, they want to buy the jersey to take home with them. I get invited to weddings of these young men. That’s the fun part.”
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