It’s 90 degrees at Hillenbrand Stadium when Ray Camacho walks off the field and finds some shade under a tent next to a reporter.
Behind him, Arizona softball players are filing out of the Lapan Center, ready to head home after a long day of practice.
They smile when they spot Camacho.
“Yeah, Ray!” one player yells. “Big time!”
“MVP! MVP!” another shouts.
Overlooked by outsiders, Camacho is a vital part of the Arizona softball program. A man with an iron arm, Camacho pitches three rounds of batting practice each day, in addition to other duties like working with outfielders or peppering balls to fielders.
Hall of Fame coach Mike Candrea, not usually one to speak in hyperbole, said last month that Arizona is “blessed” to have someone as dedicated to his craft as Camacho is.
Most programs aren’t so lucky.
“He’s the greatest of all-time and it makes it makes me feel good because I know I’m appreciated,” said Camacho, a burly, but soft-spoken, figure. “I know the girls appreciate me, but it’s good to hear from him. You know, he’s a business guy. He’s all about keeping up the tradition and hearing that from him is pretty nice.”
But if Camacho is the MVP, he isn’t paid like one. Or even at all.
Comacho is a volunteer coach and NCAA rules prohibit Arizona from paying him a dime, never mind that he works long hours and even accompanies the team on road trips.
“People think I’m nuts,” Camacho said, “but I’d do it for free. I have a really good job. Thank God I don’t need the money.”
When Camacho is not on the diamond, he works for the City of Tucson as a building inspector. He rises at 5:30 every morning and works through the afternoon, before scurrying over to Hillenbrand Stadium around 3 p.m.
Why does Camacho put so much time and effort into a job he is not compensated for? It’s simple—he loves coaching and he loves softball.
Camacho has been playing fast-pitch softball since the 1980s and has been coaching for three decades at the high school and youth level. He currently runs the Tucson Royals, a 16-and-under travel team.
“I love coaching, I really do. It’s something that’s in my blood. My mother instilled that at a young age and it’s just in our family,” said Camacho, whose son AJ is a student manager for the Wildcats.
A Tucsonan through and through, Camacho also recognizes how special it is to be part of the storied Arizona softball program. Sunday, the eight-time national champions advanced to Super Regionals for the 31st time in the last 33 years.
“Mo Mercado asked me one time, ‘Ray, why do you do this?’ It’s a lot of work, but anybody that’s born and raised in Tucson knows Arizona softball,” Camacho said. “And what I told Coach in my interview is I just want to help him win. So I love being around the program, learning from Coach.”
Camacho always thought he knew a lot about softball. Then he started working for Candrea.
“I just learned how to prepare your team better,” Camacho said. “I learned the ins and outs of the game. I mean, the way he prepares, there’s nobody better.”
Camacho joined the Wildcats prior to the 2017 season, but he would have liked to start sooner.
“I was in the Houston airport and I talked to Coach (Candrea) to see if he needed help doing what I’m doing—I used to do it for Pima College—but I never heard back from him,” Camacho said. “And three seasons ago, I got a call from Coach (Stacy) Iveson. She had gone into Baum’s Sporting Goods and a good friend of mine, Andy Camen, she asked him if she knew any men’s pitchers in Tucson. And he gave her my name, so that’s how I got the gig. I met with Coach (Candrea) and it’s history from there.”
Camacho plans to stick around next season—and many more after that.
“To be honest, I’ll probably stay here as long as Coach is here,” Camacho said. “As long as he’ll have me.”
In April, legislation was proposed that would have permitted Division I programs to add a third assistant coach, meaning invaluable volunteers like Camacho could have been hired into a full-time, paid position.
It was voted down by the NCAA Division I council.
Candrea was shocked and disappointed by the news. Camacho didn’t have a reaction.
“I actually didn’t even know about it,” he said.
He isn’t upset about it, either.
“I was asked one time by a friend of mine if I would go somewhere else and get paid,” Camacho said. “I told him I’d rather be here.”