Members of Santa Maria's baseball team have talked a lot about the impact Ivan Nunez had on them.
On Monday night, they showed that impact was quite real.
Several members of the Saints baseball team made the trip to the Nunez family home in the heart of Santa Maria then, presenting the Nunez family — Ivan's parents Francisco and Gabriela, and brother Brayan — with several mementos of their recent CIF championship.
Isiah Garcia, Devin Erickson, Robert Lopez and Angel Esparza brought the family of their former teammate the very same championship patch that was presented to them after their title-winning performance on Saturday. The team also signed a CIF championship ball cap and enclosed the items in a display case with a rosary, handing the trophy to Ivan's mother.
Ivan Nunez was a catcher within the Santa Maria baseball program his freshman year of high school. Before what would've been his sophomore season began, and on his 16th birthday, Ivan went missing after a party at his home on Dec, 26, 2015. Nunez's body was found near a barn in Nipomo the following February. Authorities ruled his death a suicide.
The family was clearly touched by the team's gesture. As members of the team arrived, Francisco went to the back of the house and grabbed Ivan's old Saints baseball cap and wore it proudly. Both Francisco and Gabriela tried to fight back tears, ultimately in vain.
Ivan's former teammates said they knew it would be an emotional and difficult night, but they also knew it was the right thing to do.
"These guys have been like a family to me," Erickson said. "We played travel ball together. We traveled together a lot. My parents and them even partied together. We were super close."
The family welcomed the players into their home with a warm reception, serving them a dinner of lasagna, Ivan's favorite dish. The Nunez home is adorned with dozens of trophies and team pictures from Ivan's days a football and baseball player in Santa Maria.
Erickson said there was no hesitation in his decision to visit the Nunez family.
"It feels awesome to bring them this," he said. "We knew we were going to keep going with Ivan. He wasn't leaving us and we were determined to bring it home for him.
"This was the right thing to do."
Gabriela and Francisco also made sure to give the players some advice after the championship win over Moreno Valley in Riverside this past weekend.
"You guys are champions, you're important people now," Gabriela told the group of players in Spanish. "Watch out for those who now want to be your friends."
When Isiah Garcia, one of Ivan's closest friends, was asked what brought the team the Nunez family home, he said it was an easy decision.
"Ivan's a part of this team, he has a place on this team no matter what," Garcia said. "His family is our family and we're going to support them no matter what. Ivan deserves this because he always wanted it."
Most high school student-athletes would still be riding the high of a CIF championship just two days removed from winning the school's first baseball title in 60 years. An emotional Garcia admitted though the decision was easy, it wasn't an easy thing to do.
"It was really hard, honestly," Garcia said. "I was kind of debating it and I started to break down a bit. But we just wanted to show our support and let them know we played for Ivan. We did this for him. We're just going to keep fighting because this is what he wanted.
"It just comes from the heart. This family helped me out a lot. I respect them so much. Ivan was like a brother to me. I've known them since I was little and they're like a second family. They've been through a lot, losing their son. I want to be there as much I can and support them, just to let them know I'm not going anywhere."
The Saints also plan on retiring Ivan's No. 22. Brayan Nunez, Ivan's younger brother, will be a freshman at Santa Maria next year and has a shot at making the varsity team, the same one that will be loaded with talent and set on repeating as CIF Southern Section Division 6 champion.