It was not exactly a smooth season for the Santa Fe Fuego of the Pecos Baseball League.
As a matter of fact, topsy turvy might be a better way to describe it.
The team suffered through numerous rain-outs and delays, which caused havoc with the schedule.
The pitching staff, forced to serve up gopher balls in the band box that is Fort Marcy Park, struggled throughout the season, finishing with an astonishing 7.26 earned-run average.
And the topper, manager Bill Moore, who had been at the helm for all four years of the Fuego’s existence, took his ball and went home on the eve of the playoffs.
And yet, there the Fuego were earlier this week, playing on the final day of the season in an effort to defend their championship of a year ago.
While that was not to be as Roswell swept the two-game series by a combined score of 34-11, what is abundantly clear is that baseball is alive and well in the Capitol City.
“Santa Fe and Trinidad (Colo.) and Garden City (Kan.) always will have baseball,” said league president Andrew Dunn. “We won’t be back in Las Vegas. It’s pretty obvious it’s just not going to be the case. But I think the league will be even better next year. We plan to go to Topeka, Kan., and possibly some place in Oklahoma.”
While the Fuego’s home leads to bloated batting and earned-run averages, it has become the centerpiece of all that is good about America’s pastime.
Even though Santa Fe quickly fell behind Tuesday, fans – most of whom stayed for most of the game – continued to chant “Fuego” throughout the evening.
The Fuego players – yes, the players – lined up and high-fived the fans as they jogged off the field after circling the bases in the middle of the fourth inning.
Fans sat in lawn chairs behind the backstop and others just set up shop in the parking lot high above the left field line. They were free to carry in their own food.
After the game, many of the players mingled with the fans, reluctant to part ways after the end of the season.
Even the players seemed reluctant to say their good-byes to each other after a turbulent, yet rather successful, ending.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” said popular first baseman Chevas Numata. “We had a lot of ups but, at the same time, we had a lot of downs. I wouldn’t replace it for anything. I love these guys.”
When Moore skipped town before playoffs started against powerhouse Trinidad, things looked dire indeed for Santa Fe.
“Once Bill left, it was all about us,” Nemata said. “We were doing it as a team. When our coach just walked out on us like that, it brought us all together. It was kind of what we needed at that time.”
Moore’s departure actually acted as a catalyst for the Fuego, said starting pitcher Alex Teal, who got racked for five homers in less than two innings by the Invaders in the championship series finale.
“It was definitely a whirlwind for sure,” he said. “Toward the end of the regular season, there was a point to where we all just wanted to go home. But losing Bill, we all kind of just rallied together. We got a little boost out of that, got a little bit closer as a team.”
Pitching coach Jake Mitzner, who was named interim manager after Moore left, said overall the experience was a good one for him and the players.
“It was crazy, man. It was crazy,” he said. “One minute our manager is gone, the next minute I become the interim manager and, all of sudden, it’s a ball club to run. And we have to prove ourselves in the playoffs. Regardless of how the end of the season went, I felt like we proved ourselves.”
Despite the way the season ended, the players responded to the challenges that faced them, Teal said.
“I saw some guys do some things that were pretty cool,” he said. “Just guys rallying together at the end of the year when we lost our leader. Just guys battling when we had our backs against the ropes. And I think it proved a lot about our character. I think it was pretty cool to see that, to see people step up in some dark times.”