webbermug

Will Webber, New Mexican sports

Whoever said life was unfair must have DNA rooted in the Pecos League.

Widely regarded as the lowest level of professional baseball in this vast land of ours, it has been the home of the Santa Fe Fuego since the team’s inception four years ago. And just like anything growing out of healthy DNA, the Fuego have flourished and prospered to become the bell cow for a cash-strapped organization held together by spit and duct tape.

In the span of a presidential term, they’ve been annointed as the proverbial hamster running on the spinning wheel that keeps the Pecos League alive.

In short, they make money.

The fans show up. The team sells merchandise. The city it plays in is a destination spot that has always been more or less centrally located in a league that has had teams in Kansas, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, most of whom who have folded or relocated since Santa Fe was granted a team in 2012.

The league leader in attendance in each of its first four seasons, the Fuego is a stone-cold lock to do the same in its fifth go-around. It all starts next month when they open a 68-game regular season that runs through July.

And here’s the part that makes it all so absurdly unfair to everyone not in a Santa Fe uniform: All but 11 of those games will be played at home.

Yeah.

The first four games are on the road at Tucson. After that it’s a robust run of 57 of the next 64 at Fort Marcy Ballpark.

Sprinkled in there is a home date on the Fourth of July and another chance to host the Pecos League All-Star Game, a late-season exhibition that has become an annual fixture in Santa Fe despite the summer monsoons. This year’s game is scheduled for July 11.

It ends with a comically outrageous 42-game homestand to end the regular season, one that keeps the Fuego on its own field from mid-June up til the start of the playoffs in late July.

The reason? Money.

The Pecos League has always catered to the most profitable teams and league president Andrew Dunn has never hidden from that fact. He gave the Fuego 42 home dates last season before summer rains washed several of them away.

Now take a look at this year’s home/road balance for the 10 clubs. It’s apparent which ones are as anemic as an iron-deficient ulcer patient and those who are treated with the kind of favoritism that would make Marcia Brady feel like the redheaded stepchild.

League newcomer Salina (Kan.) has just 11 home games, including a brutal stretch of 29 roadies in its final 30 dates. The Stockade’s final four games? At Fort Marcy Ballpark.

Defending league champion Roswell has only 24 home games while Tucson, another newcomer, has 42 games at home.

Another quirk? Some teams are scheduled for 67 games while others have 69. Most teams only have one to four days off built into the schedule.

It’s brutal, unforgiving and completely unfair — and utterly normal for this league.

The glaring lack of balance makes it obvious that the league is trying its best to get the Fuego to the playoffs. They’ve been there two years in a row, winning the title in 2014 and reaching the finals a year ago.

Where the team goes, so go the crowds. Witness the first-round series last year in Trinidad, Colo., when about half the fans for that two-game set were from Santa Fe.

Couple that with the fact that the team generally draws the best available talent, often replenishing its roster with players who can step in and instantly contribute, and it has made the Fuego a fan favorite but a league pariah.

Bottom line: Get used to it.

The team will have a new look this summer, what with its new manager and eye-candy turquoise uniforms. But the one thing that won’t change is the loving support of a league that clearly needs it to succeed.

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