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Ten Santa Fe Fuegos join the North All-Star squad

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Nick Billinger with the Santa Fe Fuego warms up before a game. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Nick Billinger with the Santa Fe Fuego warms up before a game. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

When the North All-Star squad of the Pecos Baseball League takes the field Monday at Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park, it won’t look much different than any other summer evening.

That’s because 10 members of the Santa Fe Fuego will form the bulk of the north lineup.

“It’s a good bunch of kids,” said Fuego manager Bill Moore. “They’re all All-Stars in my mind. I know that’s not realistic. Would I trade any of them, certainly not my everyday guys.”

Thanks to that stockpile of talent, el Fuego has a 25-16 record, second best in the league and first in the Northern Division.

“I have good players,” Moore said. “If you have good players and they play somewhat to their abilities, you should win your share of games. I feel really blessed that the guys that we got are what they were billed to be from the scouts and people who sent them to me. They bought into the Fuego way. And they do what they’re asked to do, and understand and accept the roles we’ve placed them in.”

Nick Billinger is one of those All-Stars who has had to accept one of those roles. He came to Santa Fe as a second baseman from Regis University in Denver, but was shifted to the outfield to make way for other players.

“I played some right in college but never center or left,” he said. “Center is a lot better. I see the ball a lot better. I see the ball off the bat better and it’s funner. You get to see everything.”

But no matter where Billinger is in the field, it’s his bat that makes the big difference.

He’s been crushing the ball this summer for el Fuego, smacking it around at a .451 clip – second best in the league. His 43 RBI are third in the league and, for good measure, he’s clubbed four homers, even though he’s far from being a power hitter.

He jacked one out of Fort Marcy earlier in the week that had Moore talking.

“He hit a home run (Monday) night that might be the hardest-hit ball I’ve seen hit all summer by any team,” he said. “It didn’t go a long ways; it barely cleared the fence. The home run he hit he was probably never over 10 feet off the ground, but the ball got out of the ballpark in a heartbeat.”

Being a leftie, it’s hard not to get out of what has been successful in the past and take aim at the short porch at Fort Marcy, Billinger admitted.

“I hit pretty good in college, hit .400 my senior year in college, so I kind of got something figured out and I just try to hit the opposite way and stay with my approach,” he said. “I try not to look over there. Every once in a while, I’ll turn on a ball, but not very often.”

If Billinger has his way, he will continue to build on this start in the second half of the season, help Santa Fe win a championship, then sign on with another league.

“Basically I’m going to play until I’m no longer good enough,” he said. “That’s my goal. I’m going to try and keep the dream alive as long as possible. Hopefully, I’ll keep on moving up as I go. I see this as a first chance, definitely. Hopefully, better opportunities will come up but I’m happy where I’m at right now.”

Moore said he has no doubt that Billinger can keep moving up and is one of just a number of Fuego with the potential to keep playing.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to move him and seven other guys up,” Moore said. “I think we’re that good in some spots.”

It’s that hope that keeps the players coming back, he said.

“The value of this league to these players is not the dollars and cents they make,” Moore said. “The value of this league – and this is my third year in it and, since I’ve been in the league, there’s been about 175 players promoted to various leagues and probably 25 to 35 that have gone to affiliated ball. I know that’s more than any other league in baseball. That’s my No. 1 recruiting tool, that and the weather in Santa Fe.”

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