NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The Stephen F. Austin baseball program is off to one of the best starts to their season they've had in years. With the momentum the Lumberjacks have had, it came as no surprise when the program reached the 500-win milestone. However, the way the team got to 500 wins came as a shock.
The SFA baseball team reached 500 wins after they put up 62 runs against Incarnate Word in their series last weekend.
The 500-win feat was made possible from the man who has quite literally, built this program from the ground up. That would be long-time head coach Johnny Cardenas.
"When this job became open and I was fortunate enough to get this job, I made it my point to try and improve the program and to move it in the right direction," said Cardenas.
500 wins later, it looks like Cardenas is headed in the right direction.
Entering his 12th year at SFA, this 500-win journey has been completely hands-on for Cardenas.
"It seems like yesterday we were putting down grass here and putting in chain link fences. There's nothing that's been done here, that I myself haven't done a little bit of. It's to the point that even my wife has helped put out windscreens and tore down the fence," said Cardenas. "We spent our honeymoon in Nacogdoches, Tx. We've had a lot of growing roots to be planted here in Nacogdoches."
"Four years ago, if you looked around this field, it wasn't the way it is now," said senior infielder Nick Ramos. "He's told us he takes a lot of pride in this because he saw this come up and built it up to what it is now."
As the program's all-time winningest head coach, Cardenas is responsible for 232 wins and counting. He's become not only a pillar to the baseball program, but in his player's lives and Nacogdoches community.
"In the community he is a role model and he does a very good job of holding that standard," said senior outfielder Connor Fikes. "He's always held me under his wing and coached me through everything. He's helped me when I'm down, helped me when I'm up, and he also helps with your family life. If anything's going on, he's that one guy to go to. I love that about him and he's one of my favorite coaches to this day."
"In the four years I've been here, he's made me a better man. He prepares guys to be better off in life and become great young men," said Ramos.
As Cardenas has built the program over time, the team has blossomed through some growing pains. It was just two years ago when the program won only 17 games. This year, they're already at 17 wins with 24 games left in the regular season.
"I have a special place for this group. In this group, we have a lot of guys that we recruited since the time they were freshmen and they have been here for four years, some of them even five," said Cardenas. "To see it come through to fruition at this point and see those guys excel really warms your heart and it makes you feel like you did it all for the right reasons."
After last weekend's series, the SFA baseball program has 502 wins. They'll look to make it 503 when they take on Northwestern State this Friday night at Jaycees Field in Nacogdoches starting at 6:30 p.m.