Shortstop One of ‘Best Ever’ at Nogales : Mate Borgogno Is Named One of the Top 25 Players in Nation

Times Staff Writer

His girlfriend may not appreciate it, but there’s no denying the facts: Mate Borgogno is a lady killer.

There he is, doing nothing more than hanging out between classes at Nogales High. One by one, the pretty girls walk by, ogling the Nobles’ star baseball player. “It’s like that every day,” says his coach, John Romano.

A hundred yards away, a car swirves by. Four screaming girls catch sight of Borgogno. “Hey, Mate, go get ‘em!” Borgogno smiles, or blushes, appearing shy but at the same time a little cocky.


“He knows what he’s got going for him, and, yes, it does make him a little arrogant and cocky,” Romano said.

What the 17-year-old senior has going for him, besides his baby-faced good looks, is his talent as a baseball player. He was recently named one of the top 25 players in the nation by Collegiate Baseball magazine. And at a school steeped in baseball tradition, producing such major-leaguers as Toronto’s Cecil Fielder and Minnesota’s Mark Salas, he is called “the best ever to play here” by his coach.

So how can he not be cocky?

Borgogno has been the center of attention at Nogales since he convinced Romano to let him try out for the team four years ago. He holds most of Nogales’ career offensive records, and he’s a fine shortstop. Borgogno has played every inning of every game for four years.

“I came here to play on a winner, to contribute to the team in every way I can,” said the Italian from West Covina. “Nogales is a winner, and so am I.”

Borgogno’s cockiness was evident from the start. As a freshman, he came to Romano and said he wanted to try out for the baseball team. Romano, who also coaches football, told him to play on the freshman team. Three times Borgogno returned to Romano (“I was really in his face,” he said), insisting he was better than anyone else Romano had playing for him.

“Finally,” Romano said, “I threw him a glove and said, ‘Show me.’ And you know what? The kid wasn’t kidding.”


He batted .280 his freshman season but since then has hit .352, .343 and .418 for a career average of .350. He holds the Nogales record for innings and games played, at-bats, runs, hits and RBI. In 27 career stolen base attempts, he’s been caught only once.

Nogales, a 4-A team playing in the Sierra League, has made the CIF playoffs in each of his four seasons. The Nobles were league champions last season and finished second in his other three years, finishing behind Diamond Bar this season with a 10-4 league mark.

Nogales lost to Diamond Bar, 10-1, last Friday in the deciding league game. But in Borgogno’s career, the Nobles have a 75-21-1 record.

“He doesn’t have the skills of some of the others who’ve played here,” Romano said. “But he’s the best to ever play here. He’s played through injuries, through a death in the family. He’s never wanted to be taken out of a game.

“Mate is your typical ballplayer. His life revolves around the game. And because he’s so talented, he does come across as cocky, but it’s not intentional. It’s a little out of shyness. He’s a nice person.”

Except when he’s on the field. He’s tough, a fierce competitor and, like most exceptional athletes, hates to lose. He’s so intense, he’s upset when he goes just 2 for 4--a bad day for him, he said.


Borgogno hasn’t had many bad days but has been in a slump. In Nogales’ last 10 games, his average has dropped more than 100 points. “Our trainer, Pat Garrett, told me that I’ve become a little too laid back, in comparison to the beginning of the year,” Borgogno said. “Maybe I’m too relaxed.”

That’s doubtful. Relaxing didn’t get him a full scholarship to Nebraska, which has the 17th-ranked team in the nation, according to Collegiate Baseball. Borgogno, a second baseman his first two years at Nogales, will return to his former position at Nebraska.

“The coach there (John Sanders) said if I produce I’ll play,” Borgogno said. “He said I have a good chance to see a lot of action as a freshman. Other schools just shined me on. You know, if you’re an athlete, you’re a star. I don’t need that. Nebraska offered lots of other things, not just the promise I’ll be a star.”

At 5-9, 155 pounds, Romano said his star pupil is a little small to have a shot at being drafted by a pro team. Even if he is, Romano said, it wouldn’t be until the very late rounds. It’s worth the wait to get four more years of experience, and growing time, by going to Nebraska.

“I’ll really miss him,” Romano said. “We’ve become pretty close. He’s such a great kid and such a great player, it’s not going to be easy replacing him.”

“That’s true,” Garrett said. “On and off the field, he’s so carefree. When I see him, I see the youth in all of us. He’s well-liked by everyone, everyone knows him and everyone’s going to be sorry he’s gone.”


Especially the girls.