Pecos League Play: The life of a Tucson Saguaro

TUCSON -
Three of the Tucson Saguaros watch a Major League baseball game on TV. It's appropriate that it's an Oakland A's game, because the topic of 'moneyball' never fit so well.
 
Welcome to the Pecos League, the lowest level of independent minor league baseball. It's a nine week season that can be described as the wild west of the minors. The crowds at Kino Stadium are sparse, and Pecos League commissioner Andrew Dunn doesn't have a marketing budget.
 
"If you don't know there's a team here, then you probably don't care," said Dunn.
 
Saguaros catcher Sal Palumbo has another position, as a UPS driver in New York. However, he wanted to deliver on his chance to play professional baseball.
     
"I pretty much talked to my boss that day," said Palumbo, with a thick New York accent. He said go chase your dream. Do what you have to do."
     
Players in this twelve team league are here for one reason, to make it to the brighter lights of affiliated minor league baseball. Details are surprising. For example, there's also no budget to use the stadium locker rooms.
     
"It's not exactly what you first expect, but at the same time, you are playing professional baseball. You are a pro."
 
Players also have to provide bats and transportation.
 
"It's tough because it's a grind," added Palumbo. Yet at the same time, we're professional baseball players. Sometimes, you don't feel like you're a pro, just because of some of the things you have to go through."
 
Most Major Leaguers make millions, but these big league hopefulls are getting paid as little as $56 per week. Commissioner Andrew Dunn founded the league in 2010. He's responsible for the players pay.
 
"It's embarrassing paying these guys so little," said Dunn. But, you have to realize if you want to make it through the season, you have to work with the budget with which you can work."
 
Dunn claims he plays his players a higher percentage of revenue than other minor leagues.
 
"If it bothered me, I wouldn't be here," said Palumbo. "the $56 is extra. It's to put in your pocket and say I got paid for playing baseball. I'm a professional."
 
"It's not really about the money for us, added catcher Logan Trowbridge. It's getting to play at a higher level."
 
Palumbo agreed.
 
"I would say everybody would probably say the same thing. There is not anybody in the league who is saying, "I'm a Pecos League player. That's going to be me for the rest of my life. Everybody is here to get out of here."
 
Players live with host families who also help with meals and transportation. It's a nine week seasonal league.
 
"It's not designed to make a living," said Dunn. "There are guys that are trying to play pro ball for the first time, or the last time, and see where it takes them."
 
Approximately twenty one hundred players have put on a Pecos League uniform. Around seven hundred have made it to affiliate baseball. And, just three have had brief stints in the Major Leagues.
 
"The process of hope being false hope. That's not our job to judge. Our job is to let the players play, and let the scouts evaluate the opportunities."
 
"You do it because you love it," said Palumbo. "You do it for the small chance you get signed somewhere else."
 
Along the way, the little things are celebrated. Last season, the Saguaros won the Pecos League championship in their inaugural season. And since we did this story, Logan Trowbridge was signed by the Salina Stockade of the American Association, considered a higher level of independent ball.
 
As for Palumbo, it's possible his days of signing autographs may end with this season, and that's perfectly okay.
 
"You can't feel like you have any what-ifs in life. You're going to be 45 years old one day, doing what you're doing, saying, 'What if I gave it one more shot.'"
 
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