When I left you last, the Santa Fe Fuego had finalized its 22-man roster, and opening day was just around the corner.
We opened the season at the Triggers of Trinidad, Colorado, on May 9. It was a matchup of the Pecos League’s two expansion franchises for the 2012 season. In front of a crowd off about 600, a solid pitching match up yielded a 4-3 win in favor of the Triggers. I was lucky enough to record the first hit in Fuego history with a single in the second inning. Overall, the baseball had a professional feel to it: radio coverage before and during the game, pro-level play on the field, and autographs after the game. While the players and umpires may have both showed a decent amount of rust, the fans in Trinidad seemed ecstatic to have a professional franchise representing the city.
After the game, both teams traveled back to Santa Fe for our home opener. Unlike Trinidad, the city of Santa Fe has expressed mixed emotions about having a professional baseball franchise. One faction of the city has been yearning for a pro baseball team for decades. Another faction of the city is strongly against the Fuego, arguing that beer sales at the game will produce drunk driving and rowdy crowds that will flood streets after games. Yet another group of citizens, most likely the largest group, have no idea at all that the team even exists.
Nevertheless, the beautiful city of 65,000 produced a boisterous crowd of 1,250 at the home opener at Fort Marcy Park. While a much smaller group of protestors was present, that night on May 9 was about celebrating the city and the civil war like struggle it had endured in order to bring us here. One of the city’s head councilmen, Ron Trujillo, was in attendance to show his support for the team. It truly was amazing to hear that crowd chanting “Let’s-go-Fuego!!” during a rally in the third inning. The team responded with a furious rally that brought the crowd to its feet.
We ended up winning a sloppy game by the score of 16-8. While it was a special night for Santa Fe, the game left a lot to be desired for baseball in Santa Fe. The game started late because the grounds crew and commissioner of the league (who also owns five of the six teams in the league) failed to have chalk to line the field. It was embarrassing to say the least. In addition, the players on the field did little to advertise a new and exciting product. With walks, errors, and hit-batters aplenty, the game time leaked well over the 4-hour mark. At one point, the city was threatening to turn off the field lights during the game so that the surrounding neighborhood tenants would not file complaints. When the final out was recorded, the home crowd had dwindled to fewer than 200.
The following night, the on-the-field product showed little, if any, improvement. Poor pitching, poor defense, poor umpiring, and seemingly too much hitting marred the game. At some points, the strike zone seemed to be the size of a credit card, which forced pitchers to throw the ball directly over the plate to avoid walking hitters. At other times, balls bouncing in the dirt would be called for strikes, leading to verbal assaults coming from both dugouts. At one point in the game, the home plate umpire called to the base umpire for an appeal who wasn’t even paying attention to make an accurate call. Add multiple home runs and errors to the mix, and the Trinidad Triggers ended up winning the game – one that did not resemble actual baseball by any stretch – 23-13 in nearly 4 hours and 30 minutes.
It is a simple equation really: Inconsistent pitching + inconsistent umpiring + inconsistent fielding + no side entertainment = football scores and a frustrated fan base
Side notes: 1) There was no sound system to entertain fans and introduce players.
2) There were no beer sales available at the game, which is the main source of revenue for the franchise.
3) At one point, the game almost ended early because we had gone through the three-dozen baseballs that the home team is allotted.
To me, it seems that the league itself is forgetting the basic principle of starting any potentially successful business: you have to spend money to make money. As an employee of the league, I can honestly say that if the league does not put more money into it (No chalk? Unprofessional umpiring? C’mon. Really????), the product on the field will suffer, and the league will be in danger of folding. But once again, that’s just the opinion of one person. The Pecos League and the City of Santa Fe have to decide whether or not they truly want baseball to succeed in Santa Fe. The sooner the people in charge make that decision, the better of we all will be.
Until next time, hasta luego from Santa Fe.