Pupfish hoping 2013 will bring enthusiasm back to the Aquarium
By Karen Boehler
Pecos League writer
ALAMOGORDO — During the Pecos League's inaugural year, the White Sands Pupfish were one of the leading teams in fan enthusiasm. While they lost to Ruidoso in the playoffs that year, that fan support — and support from the city of Alamogordo — was enough to give the ’Fish a second round of hosting the Pecos League All-Star game in 2012.
Unfortunately, an 0-8 start to the 2012 season dimmed some of that fan enthusiasm, enough to leave a sour taste in the mouth of outfielder Ernie Munoz, who spent all of 2011 in Alamogordo, then came back late in 2012 after a stint in the North American Baseball League.
"Being a part of everything in 2011, where White Sands and Roswell were pretty much the two places in the league that had great fan bases, I took it kind of personally last year, showing up to Alamogordo, and there being only 30 or 40 people in the stands," he said. "So one of my main objectives for this season is to fill the bleachers again. And we're going to do that by bringing in very talented players and getting out into the community a lot more than we did last year."
Munoz will be back in Alamogordo this season, this time as a player/manager, and he said his main goal is to put the best players he can find on the field. That means whether or not he plays will be up to whoever's hired as his assistant manager, who will be responsible for filling out the daily lineup.
"Whoever it is is going to know that the best nine guys are going to be in the lineup and I'm not going to be in it just because I'm the manager," Munoz said. "I want the best nine guys on the field, and if that means I have to coach every day, then I'll just coach every day. I want to bring a winning mentality back to White Sands."
A number of those players come from the NABL Sonoma County Grapes, including Dan March, Joe Ban, Joe Lewis, Matt Gibbs and Nick Alexander as well as Chris Di Biasi, who also saw time with the Pupfish.
"He's a guy that I trust as far as judging talent, and I've been playing with that guy for the last five years," Munoz said. "He's in the same boat as me. We both want to win a championship, so he told me he knows a few guys that could help us out and I took his word for it and that's where we got those guys from."
Matt McNeile, the Alamogordo assistant city manager, thinks Munoz and the players he's bringing in will help bring the fan spark back to the Aquarium, the Pupfish stadium.
"We'll have a coach who is very familiar with the community and who is very involved in the community, in Ernie Munoz," McNeile said. "He's bringing several of the players back who were here the first year, which will be good for the fans because they know what to expect and who they're getting."
Although it's still four months until opening day, and at this level of baseball, things can and do change, returners on the roster include Chris Anklam, Joey Friedman, Jon Couch and Rob Rodriguez.
While many of the players faces may be familiar to fans, the team will be sporting a new logo and new hats. And, McNeile said, "The field is in the best shape it's ever been in," and the player's clubhouse is expected to be finished in time for the season.
For fans, the beer and margaritas that have been a fixture at the Aquarium — something McNeile said has never been a problem in the Space City — will be back, along with frozen margaritas for those hot summer evenings. And with Munoz now vying with Alpine manager Ryan Stevens for Pecos League longevity, that could also be a plus for the ’Fish.
"I know the league pretty well," Munoz said. "I've been playing for (league commissioner) Andrew Dunn since 2009, so I have a pretty good idea of how he likes to work things and I have a good relationship with coach Stevens. And then coach (Keith) Essary in Raton. I played for him for two seasons."
Munoz and the Pupfish won't see the former White Sands manager until May 31, when they host the Osos, but while Munoz said it's going to be "a little weird" to square off against his former coach, he hopes what he learned will be a plus for Alamogordo.
"I kind of grew up in professional baseball, most of my seasons have been under coach Essary, and he's a great guy and I like his style of managing and I want to take from what he's done and bring it to Alamogordo."
The Pupfish open their season May 14 at home against Carlsbad.
For more information visit Pecos League of Professional Baseball Clubs LLC. http://www.PecosLeague.com 575-680-2212