August 8, 2012, the day after …
Alicia and I were drained of emotion and energy from the excitement of our home town Alpine Cowboys come from behind 13-7 victory, cinching the Pecos League Championship in a best 2 out of 3 series against always tough, long-time rivals from the days of the Continental League, the Las Cruces Vaqueros.
It followed a great year of minor league baseball at Kokernot Field; ending with plenty of tension in the run-up to the play-offs and home field advantage – and we’re just fans and supporters. Imagine what it was like for the players and management.
Starting with the July 19th series against the Trinidad Triggers (giving the Cowboys fits the entire season), our road trip to El Paso for a July 26th double header against Las Cruces, through the final home stand beginning July 28th against the Roswell Invaders that included several back-to-back double headers.
Each game was important.
There was a time during that stretch when the Boys were all of 4/1000th of a point ahead of then, second place Roswell Invaders.
Las Cruces worked their way into second while the Cowboys won a sufficient number of key games against Trinidad and Roswell to stay ahead of the pack.
The Cowboys did so many things well on the field both defensively and offensively this year it is difficult to know where to begin.
Fans didn’t flinch or cover their eyes to commence a prayer when a ball went to our infielders; thus making the play or converting a double play heightened expectations to the extent that errors and bobble-head innings were the rare exception.
Many a night the infield gave a “how to” clinic.
I apologize if it seems I’ve ignored the outfield; often making an outstanding diving catch running far to the left or right for the out and preventing a runner from advancing, but I sure liked watching the infielders perform.
The team improved upon 2011’s 34-26 4th place finish and early elimination in the 11th inning of the third away game in the semi-finals against the Invaders to 2012’s 1st place finish with a 45-24 record and .652 percentage, 21 games over .500!
Winning the Pecos League Championship Trophy was due, in large measure, to a critical home field advantage because all the play-off games were held at Kokernot Field.
Post-season Honors; such as Ryan Stevens being named Pecos League Coach of the Year, RHP Brett Kennedy Pecos League Pitcher of the Year and RHP Alfredo Caballero Pecos League Saves Leader, reflected well upon various components of the team’s overall baseball proficiency – one of them was sticking to the plan.
In a game of inches, “small ball” worked its fundamentals magic.
Lowering the curtain on the season; with the championship trophy securely in-hand, involved a lot of hard work and inner fortitude.
It was the norm to see players arrive at Kokernot early to sharpen their skills.
There were hardships, too, not all roses without some thorns.
Among them were lots of peanut butter sandwiches to save money on those extended road trips.
What would a dietician say about the absence of fiber?
I suppose they’d say: “the Boys made it up in fortitude and grit.”
. KVLF broadcaster, Ray Hendryx, announced one morning when the team was due back in town after being away for some two weeks: “they need some good home cooking”.
In exchange for not being charged rent by Sul Ross University, the players were responsible for tending to the field and stadium confines.
That’s not in the job description of a professional ball player; but it was in Alpine.
Did I mention the salary; playing for the love of the game and dedication to moving ahead in one’s craft instead of making tons of money?
Lunch with Head Coach Ryan Stevens involved interrupting his supervision of stadium maintenance, waiting until he finished watering the infield or dragging a wide stadium rake behind a small tractor to keep the infield in playing condition, phone calls that need immediate attention and he still had a line-up to consider, the condition of a starting pitcher, nagging injuries to some of his regulars, the stress of an incredibly tight race in a much improved and 25+ talented roster players each wanting to be in each game, highly competitive 2012 Pecos League and more.
He didn’t receive compen$ation for an entire season that wily old Casey Stengel may have received for just one game, notwithstanding today’s inflated dollars to 1950’s dollars. I was tired just watching Ryan.
Minor league managers find themselves coaching from third in all sorts of weather, including the mega-watt light bulb known as the Texas sun.
Stevens has all the responsibility and the consequences; such as being second-guessed by loyal fans for each decision made or not and a personal life to live, enjoy and nurture away from the game.
I’d bet Casey didn’t have to drive a tractor or coach 3rd base all season to wear a World Series ring managing the Yankees from the relative comfort of the dugout.
This year’s team bonded; by such things as spending quality time on the ‘o6’ Ranch during spring training and had fewer player moves than several of the other teams.
Did we have two dozen; between call-ups, injuries, trades or releases and signing some when the college season was over v some 90+ by White Sands or Santa Fe.
This year’s team drank from the cup of selflessness, immune to the plague afflicting many locker rooms throughout sports.
Too many think only of their individual stats as a means to be noticed by scouts at higher levels of baseball or towards bonus money in the majors, ignoring the fundamentals of sound play, sacrificing a winning score for personal glory.
This year’s team thrived by playing “small ball”; that is getting on base and advancing runner(s) by a bunt and then, another bunt or stealing bases.
Putting the ball in play results in either an out or observing in baseball “anything can happen” and indeed, it often did.
By forcing their opponents to make the play or bobble the ball with familiar consequences, the Cowboys won on a regular basis.
The Vaqueros committed 5 errors in Game 3 of the Championship snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
After the Game 2 loss, Coach Stevens observed that Las Cruces hadn’t yet gone deep into their bull pen.
Experience dictated that sooner or later Cowboys bats would get to a starter and clobber the relievers.
That was the Cowboys’ strength; among others, during the 70 game plus 5 play-off games season.
The other teams didn't have the same depth of pitching; something Stevens sought to acquire in the off-season.
The proof being in the pudding, his pitching and position player acquisitions and philosophy of the game paid dividends.