According to Juanumberto Picos “JP” Soto, about 10% of his hometown friends in a Mexican border town made it out after high school.
“Most of the rest are in jail,” said Soto, who was raised on the border in Nogales, Arizona, in a family of six kids.
In 2009, when Soto was a student at Newman University, his first cousin was kidnapped by the Mexican Mafia and held ransom for $65,000.
At the time, the Newman community came together in prayer for Soto’s cousin. Thankfully, after six days with nothing but water, Soto’s cousin was let go.
“I grew up knowing how to do two things: how to ride a horse and throw a rope, and how to play baseball,” he said.
The sport is what kept him out of trouble.
“There were plenty of opportunities to veer other ways,” Soto said.
After graduating from Nogales High School in 2005, Soto spent two years playing baseball and studying at Pima Community College in Tuscon, Arizona.
From there, he transferred to Newman.
Today, Soto serves as the infield coach/recruiting coordinator for the NCAA Division III baseball program at Hood College in Maryland.
“I put the work in so I could set myself up to be able to come out here and apply and thankfully get a job here,” he said.
Soto lives in Frederick, Maryland, with his wife, Bonnie, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, and daughters Brielle and Sienna — whom he calls his pride and joy.
Newman experience molds future
At Newman, Soto, who received a baseball scholarship, started all of the team’s games at shortstop during his junior and senior years, batting a combined .317.
Soto, whose first language is Spanish, was the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. He’s grateful the Newman community supported him as he navigated uncharted waters.
“A lot of people who were at Newman were very helpful,” he said. “It was a small community, tight-knit. As an athlete, I had an opportunity to talk to my teachers and be proactive.”
Soto taught his fellow classmates about religious processions in the Nogales-Mexico border region, and in Bontrager’s words, served as “an important cultural ambassador to his classmates.”
Bontrager asked him to present his findings to the class, and still today, Soto feels it was a process that bonded them.
Bontrager added, “’Picos was a dedicated student-athlete and a joy to have in class.”
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Newman University is a Catholic university named for St. John Henry Newman and founded by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ for the purpose of empowering graduates to transform society.