By Mike Cook, Las Cruces Bulletin

When Howie Morales steps up to the plate, he could be facing a political challenge in his role as New Mexico’s lieutenant governor, or he could be facing the opposing pitcher as one of the state’s premiere softball players.

Recognizing his three state championships (1992, 2003, 2006), his nearly 20 years as a member of the Grant County Sox softball team, and his success as a shortstop and lead-off batter, Morales was inducted into the New Mexico United States Specialty Sports Association (NMUSSSA) Softball Hall of Fame (HOF) Feb. 25 at the Las Cruces Convention Center.

Also inducted were men’s slow-pitch softball team Saints n Sinnaz, umpire Jim Candelaria and BNUSSSA director James Jackson, all of Las Cruces.

“It’s all about collaboration and working together,” Morales told the Bulletin after his induction.

Morales, who turned 50 in January, has been playing softball since age 19.

“I’m a product of NMUSSSA,” Morales told attendees at the organization’s state meeting as he accepted his induction award.

Morales said participation in NMUSSSSA and his service as a coach of two Grant County high school baseball teams helped him learn the valuable life lesson that “You never forget where you came from.”

“I am grateful to all my teammates and coaches over the years,” Morales said in a news release. “Sports and softball have been a passion of mine through my whole life, and this award means so much to me.”

USSSA is the nation’s largest multi-sport organization for amateur athletes, and is the largest sports organization in New Mexico, said USSANM director Ron Parra of Silver City.

Morales and fellow USSSANM HOF member Tom Polanco are the two best shortstops ever to play in Silver City, Parra said.

Morales, he said, always played “with a smile on his face (and was) a gentleman on and off the field.”

NMUSSSA created its HOF in 1999 and has “the greatest state HOF in the country,” said long-time member Kevin Naegele of Hobbs. Naegele and fellow USSSANM member Bert Frederick of Las Cruces were co-masters of ceremonies for the Feb. 25 HOF induction ceremony. Both are members of the national USSSA HOF.

Manager William Martinez and several team members accepted the HOF induction award for the Las Cruces Saints n Sinnaz, which was founded in 2005.

Morales began playing softball in 1992, after Western New Mexico University in Silver City “unexpectedly cancelled its men’s baseball program.” Morales had enrolled that year as a freshman at WNMU on a baseball scholarship. The university honored his scholarship, and Morales began his studies while working as a shoe salesman at a Silver City department store. He was invited to play softball with the Grant County Sox.

“While our team competed in tournaments nearly every weekend from May to October for 20 years, we had many successes during that time,” Morales said, including participation in World Hispanic tournaments, the Whole Enchilada Fiesta tournament in Las Cruces, the Silver City Blues Festival tournament, local benefit tournaments and state and regional play. Morales received all-tournament, all-state, golden glove and most valuable player awards throughout his career.

“I grew up, along with my many relatives, at the softball field observing fastpitch and slow-pitch,” Morales said. “I watched my father (Henry Morales, 1949-2019) organize tournaments, prepare fields, order team uniforms, fundraise and other lessons I have been able to apply in my coaching career as well as professional career. I was grateful that my dad always made it a point to take me with him to practices and games.”

“As a coach for local high school teams (Silver City and Cobre [Bayard]) I was fortunate to be part of the 1996 state championship boys basketball coaching staff as well as the 1997 state baseball champion coaching staff, and head coach of the 2008 Cobre baseball state champions and three-time state runners-up,” Morales said.

Morales completed his baseball coaching career with a record of 207-53. He was inducted into the New Mexico High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2017. Howie Morales Stadium is located in Bayard.

Morales, who has a BS and a master’s degree from WNMSU and a Ph.D. in education from New Mexico State University, was Grant County clerk 2005-08. He was appointed to the New Mexico State Senate in 2008 after the death of long-time state Sen. Ben Altamirano. Morales was re-elected to the state Senate in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Running with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, he was elected lieutenant governor in 2018 and re-elected in 2022.