Jul 10—The chasm historically separating the baseball talent between Santa Fe and Albuquerque appears to be shrinking.
Starting this week, a group of 11- and 12-year-olds aims to prove just how close the sides have gotten in recent years.
On Saturday at Ragle Park, the Santa Fe Little League All-Stars hammered visiting Los Alamos, 16-2, in the championship game of the District 1 Tournament. It sends Santa Fe into the Majors Baseball State Tournament for the second straight year.
The boys in blue will open play this Friday against eight other district champs in Albuquerque, looking to win a state title that brings bragging rights to whichever team goes into the next round of competition. The state champ heads to regionals in Waco, Texas. The winner there represents the US Southwest in the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa., in August.
With that final step would come national recognition, local immortality and — let’s face it — something a whole lot cooler than anyone could possibly predict.
“It’s all about wanting it, and this team works together; they all have the need to win,” said SFLL’s Maximus Marquez. “We play next week. I think we’ll do good.”
Marquez started on the mound in Saturday’s game, tossing one scoreless inning while going 4-for-4 at the plate. Santa Fe never trailed after Marquez scored the game’s first run in the top of the first.
After Los Alamos cut Santa Fe’s lead to 4-2 after two frames, Santa Fe left-hander Finnegan Evans took over. He worked three perfect innings, striking out seven of the nine batters he faced while his teammates scored six runs in each of the fourth and fifth innings.
Evans ended it with consecutive strikeouts to end the fifth to send Santa Fe onto state.
While the odds of reaching the sport national’s penthouse are considerably long, Santa Fe’s climb to the top of New Mexico’s mountain is getting more realistic with every step. SFLL more than doubled in size this summer, mushrooming to over 800 players as it moved its base of operations to Ragle.
“The cap [is] shrinking,” said Santa Fe Little League board member Javier Vigil. “The league is as healthy as it has ever been, and the kids — the talent level of the kids for softball and baseball — it’s getting so much better. Kids are starting to see that we can compete with the teams [in Albuquerque].”
One man with perspective is Francisco Guerra, the outgoing administrator for District 1. For two decades, he has served as the head of the Santa Fe-area baseball and softball leagues. He’s served nearly 40 years in some capacity as a coach, board member or administrator.
Holding back the emotion as he spoke following a postgame ceremony to honor his work, Guerra said the challenges Little League has faced over the last decade or so had some people rightfully questioning its long-term viability. The rapid emergence of club ball and rival leagues siphoned significant numbers away from Little League.
Toss in the year-long hiatus caused by COVID-19 and the contraction of Santa Fe’s three separate leagues into one, and there were times it seemed as if Little League was going the way of the dinosaur.
“To see it recovering brings me such joy,” he said, pausing to look over at the Santa Fe players as they posed for photos. “It’s the smiles on the kids’ faces that I’ll remember most. The coaches, the parents, the umpires — they’re all part of this, but it’s really about the children. We’ve given them a safe place to have fun and enjoy playing the game, so if you’re asking me what my favorite memory will be, that’s it. Just the smiles.”
There were plenty of those during Saturday’s game. SFLL mashed 20 hits against two Los Alamos pitchers over five innings. Abel Fresques, Victor Corral and Julian Rodriguez (flashy red, silver and blue metallic helmet and all) each had three hits.
Not to be overlooked was diminutive No. 8 hitter Bode Mack — the fashion king with his knee-high pants that showed off striped blue stirrups with red sanitaries underneath — who had a pair of hits that included the classic Little League “home run” that started as an infield single and ended with him crossing the plate seconds later with the game’s final run.
Coach Luke Cordova wrapped up a postgame chat with his club by talking about what’s coming up next week, reminding them Saturday’s win was just one part of the journey that is bringing a measure of respect back to Santa Fe’s baseball community one game at a time.
“We had three weeks to put this team together and build what we have,” he said. “I like what we’ve got. There isn’t a weak bat in our lineup, and these kids, a lot of them have plenty of baseball experience this summer. It’s been fun and next week, we’ll be ready.”
Game details: Santa Fe batted around in consecutive innings, sending 11 batters to the plate in the six-run fourth and 10 to the dish in the six-run fifth. They had a combined 15 hits in the two frames.
At one point Evans, who also played on last year’s state-bound All-Star team, fanned five straight batters after Los Alamos scored its only two runs in the bottom of the second. Santa Fe’s pitchers retired the final 10 batters they faced, ending any suspense.
Field(s) of Dreams: Vigil said SFLL’s move to Ragle Park is just the start of a baseball and softball resurgence in Santa Fe.
He said there’s a $3 million plan in place to completely refurbish the entire park. The vision is to have four fields completely turfed within the next two to three years, a plan that would transform Ragle into one of the state’s premier destination spots for youth baseball and softball.
“Imagine Santa Fe having a regional tournament here,” he said. “It’s time for this city to have something nice, something we can all be excited about.”
Team updates: Santa Fe Little League softball had a good Saturday, with three teams winning games to continue their progress through their respective state tournaments.
The 8-10 team beat Albuquerque’s South Valley Little League, 14-12, in its opening game Saturday morning in Carlsbad. It will play Silver City at 8 am Sunday in the tournament’s second round. In the Juniors division, Santa Fe beat Deming, 8-3, while its Intermediate division team beat Clovis 14-4.
Friday night, Santa Fe Little League Majors softball team beat Taos 14-1 in the opening round.