The howling winds of the New Mexico spring aren’t just blowing around dirt and pollen. They are also bringing in the summer and, with that, the start of Pecos League baseball.
Just when prep baseball comes to an end, the Fuego take over Fort Marcy Ballpark on May 14 for the season opener against the Taos Blizzard to fill the sports void that the summer months bring.
The Fuego takes a lot of heat (get it?) for not being a major-league team, and an article that The New Mexican ran last July in the Generation Next page noted that some local teens aren’t even aware that the team exists.
Still, the team isn’t too bad to watch.
I have to admit that I had my doubts about the team, being as it played in the small and little-known semi-professional Pecos League. I was being a hater, if you will, but all my doubts about the team and the league were put aside once I actually saw them in action.
Santa Fe ended last season on a nine-game win streak, but missed the playoffs with a 36-31 record. The biggest game during that streak that sticks out in my mind was a 6-5 win over the host Las Vegas Train Robbers in the penultimate regular-season game on July 22.
The Fuego were down 4-1 at one point, but cut the Las Vegas lead to 5-4 in the eighth inning. Santa Fe then scored two runs to take the lead in the top of the ninth and Fuego pitcher Brian Hicks got three outs in the bottom of the next frame to seal the win.
In short, it was one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen. The players in the Pecos League may not have the talent that players in MLB do, but they play just as hard and are just as capable of putting on a show — a show that is put on with a very small budget.
Pecos League players make roughly $300 a month. During the season, they usually stay with a host family just to have a place to crash and prepare meals, and players often volunteer to do housework for the host. Obviously, that salary isn’t enough to rent a place of their own.
The team also has to stick around after home games to clean the stands and maintain the field.
So why do players put themselves through all that hardship? Well, they do it to continue to play the game that they haven’t been able to give up, and that passion shows in the way they play.
At $6 a ticket, a Fuego game is still cheaper than a movie, and as far as I know, a Fuego game is the only legal way to drink beer while watching live baseball in Santa Fe. And if you beer guzzlers were worried about being segregated again this season, don’t worry. The beer garden is no more, meaning that you can sit anywhere in the stands.
So when you’re sitting around on a summer evening and the monsoon rains aren’t flowing through the streets, treat yourself to a Fuego game. It might change your mind about the Pecos League, too.