Editor’s Note: The following is a letter written in memory of Albuquerque Academy coach Mike Pettenuzzo, who recently passed away, by one of his former players.
It is still hard for me to swallow this huge pill. You were such a big part of my high school athletic career and life. Trying out for the varsity softball team freshman year, I didn’t think I was going to make it. You saw me swing and your eyes lit up. “Wow! I’m going to build you into a monster.” Since day one, you encouraged me and believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. If I was having a bad day, you knew exactly the right words to say.
The first time you put me on the roster freshman year, I was shocked and nervous. You came up to me right before I went up to bat and said “just take a deep breath, go up there, and hit the ball. Hit the way you do in the cage and kill it.” I walked up to the batters box, and did exactly what you told me. As soon as I hit the ball, I heard you say, “It’s gone!” As I rounded first base, you give me your infamous “tips,” rather than a high five. I ran into home, and I could hear you telling the other coaches, “I told you she could hit.”
You gave me the confidence I was looking for and needed. After that, I felt like we were unstoppable. You would stay later after practice with me so I could hit another bucket in the cage or pitch me more balls for soft toss on the field. You were always so willing to help me and kept pitching to me until I finished on a good hit. On defense, you helped me break out of my shell and become a leader.
I always knew I could go to you whenever I needed help, whether it be with softball, school, life, or my religion. We bonded over our Catholic faith and you constantly told me to always stay strong and believe in God. I loved hearing your stories about you getting in trouble at your high school and having to use a toothbrush to clean the hallways. You always knew the perfect moment to crack a joke and make us laugh. Even when you would show up to practice with your knee-high white socks, you would make us laugh unintentionally.
Each game, I looked forward to seeing you at first base, giving me a nod of assurance when I walked up to bat. You knew when I was overthinking. I would step out of the batters box and hear you yell, “Don’t think kid! Just hit the ball!” I would clear my mind and do what you told me. Hit after hit, you knew exactly what to tell me in order to succeed. Going into my senior year, we were both ready to dominate. I am proud to say that my last and most successful year happened because of you. You were always by my side and inspired me to be a better person, player and follower of Christ. Being rewarded with your “tips” is something I will cherish forever. I remember the first time I went to give you a high-five, you put all the tips of your fingers together and said, “no, tips instead”. I never knew something so small as “tips” would make such an impact in my life.
The last thing you said to me was on my graduation day. As I walked in formation before entering the tent to go on stage, you saw me. You gave me one of your warm teddy bear hugs and our eyes watered. You put your hand out and said “tips, one last time.”
Coach Mike, I will never forget all the things you taught me about softball and about life. I will forever cherish the last “tips” we gave each other. I could never thank you enough for all your patience and kind words. You were an incredible man with such a warm heart and I know heaven was rewarded with an angel. I will be praying for you now and forever.
May you Rest In Peace.
Lysia Salazar was a softball player at Albuquerque Academy.
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