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Fuego head back to ballpark to defend PBL championship

Fans will have a chance to see live baseball again in Fort Marcy Park with the beginning of the Fuego’s season. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Fans will have a chance to see live baseball again in Fort Marcy Park with the beginning of the Fuego’s season. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The boys of summer are back, but this time there’s a bit of a difference.

The Santa Fe Fuego are not only diving into another year in the Pecos Baseball League, they are doing it with something to defend.

The Fuego are the PBL 2014 champions and want to make that more than a one-year thing.

“Expectations have always been high from the first day here,” said returning manager Bill Moore, who is entering his third season with the team. “Winning the championship, the expectations are still high. … Maybe we’re going to have a little target on our back. We need to take it as our motivation to prove we’re the best team every night. I think it will be a good thing.”

While the Fuego will be defending champs, only a handful of players are back with the squad.

But the team has a strong base from which to build in first baseman Chevas Numata, who led the league in RBI with 84 in 66 games while hitting .349 with 15 homers.

While Numata anchors the middle of the lineup, the rest of it remains a work in progress, Moore said.

“I don’t know that we’re going to have the same amount of power as last year,” the manager said. “But we have some good athletes and I think we’ll hit some home runs.”

Playing in petite Fort Marcy Park will help the ball fly out of the yard, but likewise, opponents will have plenty of opportunities to drive it out of the yard.

So Moore made sure his pitching staff could throw strikes and his defenders could pick ’em up and throw them out.

“I think we’ll be one of the fastest teams in the league,” he said. “We have seven or eight guys that can really motor. Our outfielders’ defense will be substantially better because of the speed. We’re pretty good with the glove.”

And the mound corps, led by opening day starter Francisco Rodriguez, who once pitched in affiliated ball, should be a solid group that will get the ball over the plate.

“I think our pitching is considerably better than last year, or has the potential to be considerably better,” Moore said. “I’ve got a lot of guys who throw strikes. If you make the other team swing the bat, that’s better than a walk. You walk a guy and they hit a routine fly ball to center field, it’s two runs.”

While the season is just starting this week, Moore said he’s seen prognostications that are placing el Fuego third in the north.

“Do I believe that?” he asked. “I’m certainly not going to roll over and give it to them. We have a pretty good team. We cut some guys that in my opinion could play in this league and have success. When you win, good players want to come.”