May 26—The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As manager Bill Rogan assembled the handful of players present for an early start to the Santa Fe Fuego’s preseason camp, he told the 15 men circled around him that part of Tuesday morning’s practice at Fort Marcy Ballpark would entail running the bases.
But first, he said, they needed to actually find the bases. Told they’d be in one place, they were eventually found somewhere else.
Welcome to the Pecos League, the lowest rung of professional baseball, but a rung that has found a happy, if not confounding home in the state capital. In what should be season No. 10 for the Fuego, last year’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic means this is season No. 9.
It brings with it an entirely new roster, new coaching staff and even new uniforms. Same, too, for the surroundings. While Fort Marcy arguably looked better than it has for any opening practice in the team’s history, it took a while for the players to adjust.
After watching one of his batting practice cuts send a ball sailing into the elms that line the arroyo beyond Fort Marcy’s short porch to right, middle infielder Declan Peterson said he might have to rethink the whole power-hitting thing.
“I hit one homer my entire college career and it came in my senior year,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how this ballpark plays. First time I looked down the line to right, yeah, I start thinking that it can’t be more than 300 feet. The eyes get big.”
The Fuego open their season June 2 at Roswell. Between now and then, Rogan hopes to pare down the available talent into a 22-man roster that’s heavy on pitching — and pitchers willing to accept the fact that Santa Fe’s 7,000-foot altitude and (sorry, Peterson) 284-foot right-field fence are a hitter’s paradise and hurler’s nightmare.
“You keep the ball down here,” said pitching prospect Aaron McIntyre, swiping his right hand about 15 inches off the ground, “they’ll probably hit it on the ground and not have me turning around to watch it.”
Peterson and McIntyre are like most of those who call the Pecos League home; they came to Santa Fe from distant points on the U.S. map. McIntyre is from Houston, while Peterson’s last stop was in college ball in Ohio.
Two of the locals are Ben Tingen and Jared Gay. Tingen graduated from Mayfield High School in Las Cruces and spent four years at the University of the Southwest, an NAIA school in Hobbs. Gay lives in Albuquerque and has two younger brothers, Adam and Simon, who graduated from Volcano Vista and play football at the University of New Mexico.
With a father who’s 6-foot-5, a mom who’s 6-1 and a third brother who stands 6-7, Gay said he’s the smallest one in the family. Although he attended high school in Rochester, N.Y., he spent four years playing baseball at Eastern New Mexico and a senior year at Adams State.
At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he is easily the most physically imposing player on Rogan’s roster. He was also the last player on the field, taking a handful of extra throws into the dirt at first base. During Tuesday’s batting practice he launched a ball that landed on the far side of the pedestrian bridge in right-center and rolled to a stop halfway across Magers Field.
“You hear the rumors about this place, and then you see it and it looks even smaller than people have been talking about,” Gay said. “It’s like a slow-pitch softball field. Put the barrel on the ball and it’s out of here. You look at the stats and the league leader had like 19 home runs and, you know, playing half your games here it almost seems low.”
Tingen is perhaps Rogan’s most prized recruit. Already earmarked as the starting centerfielder and potential leadoff man, he wowed his current skipper when they first crossed paths a couple years ago in the Pecos League.
Then the manager at Tucson, Rogan watched Tingen rob his team twice with amazing catches in center when he played for Bakersfield.
“I owe Bill for being here,” Tingen said. “If I don’t get the call from here I’m working my 9-to-5, building fences in Cruces. But that’s what the Pecos League is all about: Opportunities. You never know when one’s going to pop up and now that I have one, it’s my chance to get those numbers up and prove I can do this.”
Rogan expects to have as many as 25 players in camp by week’s end. That includes a player or two from a planned league-run tryout at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Fort Marcy.
“For first days, this was a good one,” Rogan said. “The enthusiasm level was there, they were excited and I thought they got along well. Now, that’s usually the case for the first practice so we’ll see how they come back the next day and the day after that. Will they still be gung-ho after four or five days? We’ll see.”
Injury bug: The news wasn’t all good. While running the bases, the team’s only available catcher, Dalton Martin, strained his left hamstring while rounding first in one of the final drills of the day.
Host families needed: The Fuego need the community’s help in finding host families for this year’s team. The club will host a cookout at Fort Marcy Ballpark from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Anyone interested in the team’s billeting situation is encouraged to attend. All players will be there.
Volunteers wanted: Fuego general manager Yvonne Encinias is seeking people willing to step up and fill various roles with the organization. The team needs volunteers to fill in as bat boy/girl, to sing the national anthem, to help take tickets and even serve as the team’s mascot.
Anyone interested should contact the club on its Facebook page or email Encinias at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mascot: Speaking of the mascot, adios to Fireball. The flaming-head puppet head that made its debut in the 2019 season will not return to Santa Fe, Encinias said. The club will have its more familiar mascot, the fuzzy red dragon that has taken various names over the years.