Juanumberto Picos ‘JP’ Soto’s journey lands him career in college athletics

Sep 08, 2022
Juanumberto Picos “JP” Soto

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.

Soto (left) lassos a calf during a competition. (Courtesy photo)
Soto (right) lassos a calf during a competition. (Courtesy photo)

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.

He also majored in biology with minors in Spanish and sports medicine, as his initial intent was to pursue physical therapy.

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.

Juanumberto Picos “JP” Soto during his time as a baseball player at Newman University
Juanumberto Picos “JP” Soto during his time as a baseball player at Newman University

“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.”

He forged a special bond with Sonja Bontrager, assistant professor of Spanish, who sought out Soto in class to share his perspective on the Mexican community and heritage.

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.”

He also wrote a paper about his experience on the Pilgrimage to Magdalena, a spiritual walk from Nogales to Magdalena — the town in Mexico where The Rev. Eusebio Francisco Kino “Padre Kino” died.

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.