This is a story about an athlete who never quit.
But it's better than that.
First, about Andre Vigil
. Volcano Vista (Albuquerque)
senior. First-team, All-State baseball player. One of the top-rated prospects in New Mexico.
He's five home runs shy of breaking the all-time state career record, a mark he would've assuredly had by now had New Mexico not implemented a rule change making high school teams hit with wood bats instead of the more powerful aluminum version beginning in the 2011-12 season.
A 5-foot-9, 170-pound second baseman and pitcher, Vigil is a supreme dual threat, capable of affecting the outcome of a game with his bat and arm. Right now, though, Vigil is in the worst hitting slump of his burgeoning baseball career. After hitting .470 as a sophomore and a robust .545 in his junior campaign, Vigil is batting under .300 through eight games this season.
Yes, it's a small sample size, but the fact that Vigil and Volcano Vista coach Kevin Andersh acknowledge the struggles speaks volumes to Vigil's tremendous talent and consistency.
"I've never gone this long struggling at the plate," Vigil said.
Andersh said it's only a matter of time before Vigil breaks out of his slump — and with good reason. After all, no matter what Vigil endures on the baseball field, it will pale in comparison to the adversity he's faced off the field in simply trying to survive.
First, some background. Vigil was raised by his grandparents from his dad's side of the family in Oklahoma because Vigil's father, Andy, was only 14 at the time of his birth and the mother was reportedly heavily involved with gangs, Vigil said.
Although it was far from ideal, Vigil said he enjoyed his upbringing, noting he got to play Little League baseball and Pee Wee football, among other things. But on Sept. 28, 2005, a month shy of his 11th birthday, Vigil's life was forever changed. He had just been picked up by his grandmother, Catherine, from football practice.
Everything was fine on the drive home until the moments before the two pulled up into the driveway. From a distance, Vigil could see a man lying down on the front yard, engulfed in a pool of blood.
"It can't be," Vigil said to himself.
It was. Vigil's grandfather, Leroy, up until that point one of the few father figures in Vigil's life, was dead. He had been murdered, bludgeoned with a baseball bat before being shot multiple times in the head. At the time, of course, Vigil didn't know how his grandfather had died — he just knew one of the few people he could count on in his life was gone.
"It's an image that sticks with you," Vigil said. "I was in a complete shock. It happened so fast it was hard to believe."
In a shocking, horrific twist, a total of five people were arrested, including Vigil's grandmother, Catherine, who eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for paying $500 to have her husband killed. Catherine Vigil was facing the death penalty if convicted in the murder-for-hire plot, and she told police her husband abused her.
A couple of weeks after he lost both of his grandparents, Vigil moved to New Mexico to live with his dad, the place where he still resides today. It was only two years ago when Vigil fully learned of all the intricate details of his grandfather's murder. Vigil's initial shock later gave way to sadness, but he found solace with family and friends, surrounding himself with "the people I love." Baseball also helped heal Vigil's emotional wounds, providing an escape from a childhood that no person should ever have to go through.
Like a best friend, baseball has always been there for him, in good times and bad, ready to serve its purpose. For many years, the ballpark was Vigil's psychologist, a place where he could go and get away from life's daily grinds. Now, more than ever, the ballpark was his oasis, healing the massive-sized hole in his aching heart.
"Baseball has never let me down," Vigil said. "It's a humbling game, no doubt, but that's the beauty of it. There's nothing about baseball I take for granted. I try to accomplish something new everyday."
Vigil tells his story with such ease and grace, he almost — almost — succeeds in painting his childhood as anything but a living nightmare. Up until now, only Vigil's closest friends knew about his heartbreaking story. Vigil is clearly not looking for any sympathy, he simply wants to be a role model for others who have experienced similar heartbreak and struggle.
His message? That it's not just about surviving, it's thriving.
With a strong work ethic and fierce determination, Vigil has excelled on and off the field. In addition to his baseball exploits — of which there are many — Vigil carries a 3.3 GPA. He also wrestled on the school's varsity team as a freshman in addition to playing varsity football as a sophomore and junior, when he was one of the district's top running backs.
For now, put aside the fact that as a sophomore he hit a 5A-best 17 homers and 58 RBIs. Or that he followed that up with three home runs and 37 RBIs as a junior (the numbers, while dramatically lower, were equally if not more impressive considering he was hitting with a wood bat).
No, as cheesy or corny as it may sound, the greatest thing one can say about Vigil is the warmth and depth in the way he treats other people.
"Andre is just an all-around great person," Andersh said. "If you ask any of the students at Volcano Vista, they would probably talk about how genuine of a guy he is. He gets good grades, he's got a good personality and he's a good looking guy. He's one of the best players in the state, but he's easy to root for because of how he carries himself off the field."
Instead of going down a deep, dark path, Vigil has overcome all odds in becoming a true student-athlete. He knows there will be more tough days ahead — "To see my grandpa dead up close and personal, it's something that sticks with you forever," Vigil said — but he's prepared for further adversity. Vigil's life experiences have also helped him flourish in baseball.
Whenever times got tough — if he went 0-for-4, for instance — all Vigil had to do was remember back to that dark day, and he knew his pain could be far greater. He recalled that long drive back home and the image of seeing his dead grandfather, the terrible confusion that followed, and the days after in which he tried to find solace in something, anything.
"Just seeing what I saw, it drives me to be a better and more determined person," Vigil said. "To have someone you love so much taken away so fast and so easy… So I apply it to baseball, knowing the game can be taken away from you in an instant. It drives me to play with an extra bounce in my step."