During this spring baseball season, Santa Maria coach Mike Roberson was asked what having a guy like Brayan Nuñez behind the plate meant to his team.
"He's everything," Roberson said of Nuñez, who also goes by Chino. "He's our captain for a reason. He's our workhorse, our ironman. He never wants to come out of the game. When we have doubleheaders, he'll catch every inning and he'll want to catch every inning of every game."
It's easy to see how Nuñez became such a vital part of the Santa Maria baseball team. He spent all four years of his prep career on the varsity level, catching nearly every inning over the last few seasons.
Nuñez was so dialed in with the Saints, that Roberson said he took the step rarely seen at the high school level of handing over the pitch-calling duties over to his catcher.
"He's a coach on the team," Roberson said. "He calls pitches for me. Usually I have coach who does that, but Brian's a four-year varsity player."
Nuñez helped the Saints finish second in the Ocean League this spring and advance to the CIF Central Section Division 4 title game, where they lost on the road to Bakersfield Christian after a magical playoff run through Central Valley competition. The 5-foot-9 catcher was at times intense in the Saint dugout, but nearly always supportive. The Santa Maria dugout this spring had a business-like vibe that seemed to emanate from Nuñez.
Roberson heaped praise on his catcher for his leadership abilities, though Nuñez himself has a different perspective on his role as a team captain.
"I would like for everyone to be a captain and not just one person," Nuñez said. "I try and be my best every day, but I have my off days and I expect my team to pick me up when I'm having those days. I have bad days just like everyone else and I would expect my team to carry me when that happens.
"It feels nice to be able to pump up the team and communicate with these guys and lead them as much as I can. But, at the same time, we can all be captains. We all have roles to play and that's real big."
It looks like another local school will now benefit from having Nuñez behind the plate. During the season, the left-handed hitter said he planned on playing for Hancock College and coach Chris Stevens next spring.
"The plan is to go to Hancock and transfer out," Nuñez said.
The Saints had a strong season in Nunez's finale, as he and nine other seniors advanced to a CIF title game. In fact, Roberson said eight seniors on the team had already booked summer vacations to Hawaii set for the week of the title game in June. Two of those seniors opted to travel and the rest chose to play in the CIF final. Roberson said he understood the players who went on vacation and those who chose to play.
"That was a big dilemma. We had about eight seniors who were supposed to go to Hawaii and two went and we had the rest that decided to stay," Roberson said after the game against Bakersfield Christian. "That was hard. The kids shouldn't have been put in that situation, but the guys had goals to be CIF champions and they made the decision to play. Hawaii will be there. It was an awesome season and it's hard to make it to a CIF title game. I couldn't have asked for a better group of kids."
Nuñez was just glad to have a senior season after nearly all of his junior season was wiped out by the pandemic.
"Honestly, it would've sucked if we didn't have our senior year," he said. "We're glad to have that and we just tried to make the most of it and win as many games as we could."
Those who know Nuñez's story may find extra significance in his play and leadership on the diamond. Every game this year, Nuñez wore the white sweatband on his right forearm in honor of his late brother, Ivan. The band is dirty from years of use and the '22' isn't that easy to read anymore, but it's still there. Nuñez wore No. 22 at Santa Maria this spring. It was the number his brother wore when Ivan was the Saints' catcher as a freshman in 2015 and Brayan was in the sixth grade.
"It feels good. I feel proud to wear his number and I'm trying to do as much as I can," Brayan said. "I'm trying to make my parents proud, I'm trying to make everyone proud. That's why I work hard every day — day in and day out."