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Pecos League to utilize MLB balls

James BarronMay 27, 2019

The big leagues are coming to Santa Fe.

Well, at least the baseballs are.

The Pecos League will experiment with the same balls used by Major League Baseball for at least the first week of the upcoming season, giving fans who chase them down (and choose not to return them to the concession stand) an opportunity to take home a prize used at the sport’s highest level.

Pecos League President Andrew Dunn made the announcement last week, saying the same Rawlings balls used by big league teams will be coming to Fort Marcy Ballpark in time for Thursday’s season opener against Alpine. They’ll go back to the regular balls as soon as the MLB supply runs out — or the first week is up, whichever comes first.

“Those things are wound pretty tight so you’re going to see some balls flying right out of there,” he said.

If there’s one thing batters at Fort Marcy don’t need help with it’s getting the ball over the fence. With dimensions of 355 to straightaway center and 285 down the line to right, plus Santa Fe’s 7,000-foot high desert altitude, even normal fly balls sail far, far away.

Last year, the Fuego launched 144 home runs, easily surpassing the 125 hit in 2016 and the 103 from the inaugural season in 2012. The 12 teams in league last season combined for fewer than 1,100 dingers, meaning nearly 14 percent of the home runs were hit by Santa Fe — most of them coming in the cozy confines of the Fort.

Rawlings is contracted to make official game balls for both the major leagues and minor leagues. It has been the official supplier for the Pecos League with each ball emblazoned with a stamp of the league’s name, Dunn’s signature and a logo of the team hosting the game.

According to an article published last month by Baseball America, Rawlings balls used for the minor leagues are lower in quality and sell for about half the wholesale price as those manufactured for the bigs. The MLB balls are wound tighter, have high quality leather and lower seams.

Triple-A affiliates have switched to the MLB ball this season and home runs are up dramatically in both the Pacific Coast League and the International League. Dunn expects the same to be true in the homer-happy Pecos League, especially in Santa Fe.

So, as Mel Gibson’s character said to Joaquin Phoenix at the end of Signs, “Swing away.”

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Just when you thought you had 21/2 months to wait for some prep sports action, here comes the New Mexico High School Coaches Association’s All-Star Series. And here comes a new way of envisioning the games that honor the top graduating high school players in the state.

Instead of the usual North-versus-South standoff that defined the series, the NMHSCA went in a different direction — literally and figuratively — in basketball and volleyball.

It divided the state into four sections for big schools and small schools with the dividing quadrants involving the Albuquerque metro area. Also, the large school teams will include graduated or graduating athletes from Class 3A on up, while the small schools comprise 1A and 2A competitors.

Baseball and softball will have four large-school teams, while the small schools retain the traditional North-versus-South format.

It eased an argument that big-school coaches north of Albuquerque often made that Albuquerque schools often dominated the North rosters. Instead, the metro area players will be spread across all four teams in the big-school division.

After trying to cram all of the sports into a four-day window, the organization also spread the games out over a nine-day period, starting with the boys and girls basketball in a two-game series and the North-South tennis series that starts on Friday.

The girls basketball games will be at Albuquerque Manzano, while the boys games are at Valley. Tennis will take place at Albuquerque Academy.

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The list of high school graduates announcing their intentions to compete athletically in college continued Friday, as Santa Fe High’s Matt Hunter announced he will attend Sewanee: University of the South in Tennessee. The forward tied for the Class 5A lead in goals with 31, as he helped the Demons to their first state tournament appearance in six years.

Not only that, but Hunter also loaded up on academic scholarships, as he received the Ecce Quam Bonum scholarship, Endowed Scholars scholarship, and Sullivan Foundation scholarship. Hunter also will be a part of school’s Bonner Leaders Program, which aims to educate students for lives of leadership in community service.

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New Mexico Highlands University has a national champion for the first time in four years.

Annie Topal won the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championship in the triple jump on Saturday in Kingsville, Texas.

A Cowgirls sophomore, she jumped 13.02 meters (42-feet, 83/4 inches) on her third attempt to set a personal record and take the overall lead in the competition.

West Texas A&M’s Fatim Affessi matched Topal’s distance on her sixth try, but the tiebreaker went NMHU’s way based on the fact that Topal did it first.

She is the first national champ in an individual event since NMHU great Salcia Slack won the heptathlon in 2015. It’s the program’s third national title in all.

Said legendary NMHU head coach Bob DeVries: “It was a nerve-wracking final … but coach Myra Hawkins and Annie developed a strong relationship and worked hard.”

Topal’s achievement earned her All-American status as a top-six finisher. NMHU’s Sharon Toako also earned it, finishing fifth in the javelin.

Cowgirls freshman Serena Canegan’s third-place finish in the high jump on Friday got her All-American status as well.

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