Andrew Dunn wants the 2020 Pecos League season to happen, but he acknowledged the decision is out of his hands for the moment.
In fact, it might depend on the Santa Fe Fuego.
The commissioner and owner of the independent baseball league that includes the Fuego said the season will start July 1 instead of the anticipated May 27. Dunn said the league will shorten the schedule to 48 games for 10 teams that should end by Aug. 16.
The start date is tentative because it depends on how soon cities and states ease orders to stay at home.
New Mexico has had such an order since March 23, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday said she expects to extend it until May 15.
“I don’t see any way we will be able to start May 27 or whenever the original date was,” Dunn said. “So, basically, we’re pushing it back.”
The Pecos League has teams in New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Arizona and California, and two clubs have already declined to play: the Trinidad Triggers in Colorado and the Wasco Reserve in California. Dunn said he is confident most of the teams in California, as well as the Tucson Saguaros in Arizona, the Alpine Cowboys in Texas and the Garden City Wind in Kansas will be able to play this season.
The Fuego, however, are needed to complete the Mountain Division portion of the schedule and make travel not as cumbersome for some teams. The Pacific Division has six California teams, including Wasco.
“I think if Santa Fe doesn’t play, it will be hard for the other teams to play,” Dunn said. “You already don’t have Trinidad. … We need Santa Fe and Roswell [the Invaders] to play together and Alpine and Garden City need to [play together]. That is the outlook of the situation.”
Yvonne Encinias, the Fuego general manager, said she is waiting out the coronavirus pandemic before reaching out to city leaders in order to gauge the possibility of playing. Encinias doesn’t feel comfortable inquiring about that given the climate in the state.
“I feel like they are dealing with a lot bigger issues right now,” Encinias said. “When they are trying to figure out how to save people’s jobs and make sure they can get food on people’s tables, I don’t want to stand up at the table and say, ‘What about baseball?’ ”
Encinias said there are other factors in play. Paramount is the availability of host families to house players. The Fuego have already struggled with finding enough host families, but the pandemic makes matters even more complicated.
While Encinias can rely upon a handful of families to help house players, she said she can’t contact them in good faith, considering many of the potential players will be arriving from other parts of the country.
With the dangers of the coronavirus, it might discourage some families from acting as hosts.
“After this, how many host families are willing to open their homes to kids out of the state or even out of the country?” Encinias said. “I don’t want to be the person out there right now, saying, ‘So, are you going to take five players in July or no?’ And I haven’t really done that [reached out to host families].”
Sponsorships from local businesses, another lifeline for the organization, could take a hit because most of them are not operating. Encinias said Meow Wolf has long been a key sponsor for the Fuego, but with its doors closed for the past month, she is not confident the business could fulfill its role. The same goes for other, smaller sponsors.
Encinias said there is a chance the Fuego could opt out of playing, but she envisions the Fuego will return in 2021 — provided the coronavirus is no longer wreaking havoc on the world.
“Even if we end up not playing this season, I feel like we are going to be back,” Encinias said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
If the Fuego do not play, Dunn said the league could still operate, but probably in Houston — the Pecos League headquarters.
“That is a very strong possibility, and we’d do it with no fans,” Dunn said. “That would allow us to keep momentum with the players so that they don’t miss a year.”