Fleet-footed children scour field for Fuego balls
Photos by Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican
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Posted: Saturday, June 20, 2015 10:00 pm |
By Will Webber
The Santa Fe New Mexican
No one covers more ground in the Fort Marcy outfield than Rheannon Abeyta.
Just 9 years old, she scoops up more baseballs than any Fuego outfielder.
Such is the luxury of being a kid with razor-sharp instincts who resides on the other side of the chainlink fence that separates the lush green grass of right field and the endless domain that exists for foul balls and home runs.
“The secret,” she says, pausing for effect between pitches of a recent Pecos League game between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, “is getting there fast. I run as fast as I can.”
Abeyta is one of a small army of kids who routinely patrol Fort Marcy Ballpark’s periphery looking for balls smacked out of play. On any given night, dozens of kids roam the areas in foul ball territory waiting for something to land at their feet.
On this particular night, 34 baseballs were sent out of play, either as foul balls that landed in the parking lot or in the 25-foot deep arroyo that separates the ballpark from the adjacent playground at Fort Marcy Complex. Abeyta was the first to get one when a line-drive home run pinballed between the trees beyond right field and landed in the sand at the bottom of the dry stream bed.
Positioned perfectly with her parents at the end of the foot bridge not far from the right field foul pole, she slipped between a narrow opening in the fence, slid down the dirt embankment and scooped up her prize without another kid in sight. By her dad’s count, she has at least 30 Fuego balls at home.
“I don’t have a favorite,” Rheannon says. “I like them all.”
Despite repeated attempts by the team’s public address announcer to bribe kids to return them for later use, most requests are gleefully ignored.
Foul balls are free. Home run balls are valued possessions that cost nothing.
Finders keepers, losers weepers.
Anyone who has ever attended a professional game knows there’s always a chance a freebie gift could come flying into the stands at any moment. Catching one of them makes the recipient the envy — if only for a second — of all those seated nearby.
Each ball costs roughly $8 to $10, according to a league source. Cartons of them are shipped to each club, the team’s logo stamped into a spot near the seams. It’s a seal of uniqueness that makes the Pecos League experience even more real for anyone lucky enough to grab one.
“Every night we rub up four dozen brand new baseballs and every night we might wind up with only 12 left,” says Bill Moore, the grizzled veteran manager of the Santa Fe Fuego. “It would be nice to get some of them back, but I understand what it means to get one of those things. Hell, I probably wouldn’t give it back either.”
The team’s attempt to lure the balls back by having its “Shagger of the Week” competition didn’t take long to run dry. Used to be, the kid who returned the most balls in any given week got a free T-shirt from the concession stand. It then became free candy.
Now, basically nothing works.
“Yeah, why would I go give one back if all they give me is a candy?” says Howie Sena, another 9-year-old who keeps one eye on the field at all times. “I mean, they might give you a ring pop or something, but why do that? I’d rather keep it.”
On this night, Sena got his prize when he snared a foul ball that plopped heavily onto the grassy hill between the Fuego bullpen and the nearby parking lot. His Little League teammate, Roman Parrish, had never even been to a Fuego game, let alone caught a free ball. Before heading home he had at least three.
While Abeyta was with her family on one of the bridges, Parrish sat alongside Jeremiah Hernandez, 8, on the other crossing behind the power alley in right-center. Both kids had an extra weapon — a bike. Hernandez repeatedly missed potential souvenirs when he’d ride off in one direction and then have a ball land in his earlier spot just moments later.
“I think you have to kind of plan where the ball is going to go,” says Aaron Casados, a remarkably fast 10-year-old from Las Cruces who has spent many a night at Fort Marcy while visiting family this summer. “If there’s a righthander up, you want to be over here by first base. If it’s a lefty, you have to run real fast over by third. It’s a whole thing.”
Before this night, Casados had collected 21 balls. By his count, he’s held on to 17. The other four he gave away; one of them to a little girl who was standing nearby but didn’t get there in time.
“Yeah, I have a lot of baseballs just for me so I don’t care about giving some away,” he says. “I think my mistake with some foul balls is I run so fast that I get there before everyone else, but when I get there I can’t always find them.”
At Fort Marcy, baseballs easily find the parking lot behind home and down the first base line. They bounce wildly between cars, sometimes taking out an unsuspecting windshield or denting a hood. Most of the players and team employees have war stories in that regard.
For Hernandez, his night finally did produce a favorable result. After watching helplessly as one ball after another went to another kid, his grandfather finally helped him grab a home run ball late in the game when a ball nosedived into the ditch just a few feet from where he was waiting.
“I think every kid wants one of these things,” Parrish said, looking over in Hernandez’s direction. “I can’t believe I’ve never gotten one before this. They’re so easy to get, too. You could have a whole collection.”
For more information visit Pecos League of Professional Baseball Clubs LLC. http://www.PecosLeague.com 575-680-2212