Former GRHS star becomes first Major League Baseball player in YUHSD history
Former Gila Ridge High School baseball standout Irving Lopez waited nearly a decade after high school for his dreams to come true.
After graduating as one of the most decorated baseball players in recent Yuma Union High School District history in 2013, Lopez attended Arizona Western College (AWC) and Florida International University in Miami and was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round of the 2017 amateur baseball draft. He spent six years in the team’s minor league system.
On Friday night, however, he was in a big-league dugout for the first time. A night later, he started at third base, becoming the first YUHSD graduate to make an appearance in the Majors.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of Gila Ridge and AWC, and all of Yuma,” Lopez said. “It’s amazing how a little town can show a lot of support.
“This past 48 hours have been pretty amazing, but a lot of nerves and a lot of thoughts going through my mind. When the game finished yesterday, [Cardinals pitcher] Adam Wainwright came up to me and congratulated me and said ‘nobody’s going to take it away from you anymore.’ That was a special moment, for a big leaguer, a future Hall of Famer, to tell you that, goosebumps go through my skin. It’s a pretty special day.”
Lopez started the final two games of the Cardinals’ three-game series with the San Diego Padres. A large contingent of family, friends, and supporters made the nearly three-hour drive to Petco Park to see him.
“When I first got the news, my eyes got watery,” Lopez said. “I called my wife and told her the news. She got excited for me. Seeing her reaction, she’s been a part of it with me this whole time. She’s been with me this whole time through the minors. So, it was a special moment for her, too, and my family, too.”
After the game, he met his family, including his parents, wife, and son, in the tunnel below Petco Park. He gave his game-worn jersey to his dad.
For GRHS baseball coach James Kuzniak, who was an assistant at the school when Lopez played, seeing his former student-athlete reach his ultimate goal was an emotional occasion.
“Once he texted Saturday morning and said he was in the starting lineup, I don’t know how he slept, I don’t know how he focused because me, myself, I couldn’t focus,” said Kuzniak, who attended all three games in San Diego. “Seeing him run out of the dugout was an amazing feeling as a coach, as a friend, as somebody there from the beginning. I just couldn’t be prouder of this guy.”
According to MaxPreps.com, Lopez batted .434 without a single strikeout his final two varsity seasons at Gila Ridge, while serving as the team’s second baseman and one of its top pitchers. In 2013, the Hawks advanced to the quarterfinals of the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) Division II state playoffs. In his final high school at-bat, he singled to right field off of future second-round draft pick Alex Verdugo of Sahuaro High School. Both Lopez and Verdugo, who is an outfielder with the Boston Red Sox, are now major leaguers.
Until this weekend, Lopez was one of 13 YUHSD graduates who had advanced to AAA, the highest level of the minor league baseball system. The group includes at least one former athlete from each of YUHSD’s five schools that offer varsity baseball. San Luis High School pitcher Gabriel Ponce (Class of 2017) is currently in AAA with the Toronto Blue Jays organization.