“Hey, Fuego fans, let’s pass the hat for Matt Patrone’s home run,” the PA announcer says amid cheers. I’m certain Patrone’s blast here in Fort Marcy Ballpark, a Pecos League venue, would have been at least a ground rule double in about any major league park.
The next hitter lines a pitch out of play toward the parking lot behind the dugout. Hard hitters, these Santa Fe Fuegos.
“That foul ball is brought to you by Discount Glass and Glazing. Just mention Fuego baseball and get a discount on your next purchase.” I love it. This place has real personality.
The woman in charge of collecting money for tickets wanders over to me from her top row seat. She’s right on time. We’d made a deal: If I liked the place I chose to sit with my dog, Rusty, after two trial innings, she’d only charge $3. Dogs aren’t allowed in the $6 seats behind home plate.
Either way, what bargains. I’m glad the Fuegos are in an independent pro baseball league, not even a minors system affiliated with a team in the majors. Think I’d be able to bring my beach chair, let alone dog, into their ballparks?
Sitting behind the Trinidad Triggers dugout, Rusty and I notice a Trigger player come our way. On his walk to the park’s all-purpose port-a-potty, he stops to pet Rusty. He even lets me take pictures of the two together. On his return trip to the dugout, he gives Rusty some more love, saying that, with so much time on the road, he misses his dogs back home terribly.
Strangely, however, the Trigger player doesn’t go into the dugout, but sits on top of it. In fact, neither the Triggers nor Fuego players actually sit in their dugouts – they sit around the dugouts. It must be a Pecos League tradition. Again, what personality.
Out of nowhere, a pop foul comes my way and I catch it! It’s something I’ve never done in all my years attending crowded major league and AAA games. I feel special, like a kid again. I’d like to think that’s what baseball should be, a special connection directly from pitcher to batter to fan. To continue the link, I give my cherished first ball to a 2-year-old who’s apparently already caught baseball fever.
Where else do you bring your own lawn chair to a professional baseball game? Negotiate a price and place where your dog can sit with you? Have more fun, pay less and see a competitive sporting event? Switch gears from watching the game on the field to playing catch with a kid and then going back to the game? See players perform for practically nothing just for the love of the game?
Where else is there a meeting on the field of every team member in the bottom of the fifth inning for team unity, spirit and awareness of what this is all about? Where else is there a pro sporting event where the majority of fans leave their cellphones behind? Fuego baseball is where.
It’s life in the moment for fans and particularly the impressionable young men playing. It’s a spirited, fast game. You have to watch closely. There are no scoreboard replays, let alone bathrooms every 50 feet. Which is fine. I love the game just the way it is.
After the season concludes with the current playoffs, I know I’ll be back in 2016, connecting this season’s joy with the next.