Like many red-blooded American boys, Andrew Dunn fell in love with baseball as a kid and dreamed of making it to The Show.
He never got shot at professional baseball at its highest level, but Dunn has stayed with the sport – at its lowest level – as owner of the Pecos League, which includes Taos Blizzard.
The only athlete in his family, the Houston-area native played at Beach City (Texas) High School – a school that produced four major leaguers. His high school hosted pro ball players from the area during the 1994 strike. Dunn went to college at Louisiana State University but didn’t play baseball for the Tigers, who won two national championships while Dunn was there in the mid-’90s.
He did play on a short-season team affiliated with the Cleveland Indians but soon figured out that it wasn’t meant to be.
“It was around then that I knew I wasn’t going to be a Major League Baseball player,” he said. “I was fast, but lots of guys were fast. And, to be a major league outfielder, you had to be 6-3, 210, not 5-9, 170 like me. It was just the wrong time for me.”
But baseball was firmly embedded in Dunn’s life. He played some semi-pro ball around Houston until he heard that the independent Continental Baseball League (CBL) wanted to add his team to the league that was centered in the Southwest.
“We would’ve done well but we all had jobs and really not much ambition to join,” he said. “But the independent league thing intrigued me.”
From there, Dunn built a baseball park in the Houston area and, in 2009, the CBL folks called again looking for someone to run their travel team, the West Texas Roadhogs. He did well and ended up as owner of the Las Cruces Vaqueros – one of two teams left after the CBL folded in 2010.
What else could Dunn do but start up his own league, which he called the Pecos League? With Las Cruces in hand, he added New Mexico teams from Alamagordo, Carlsbad, Ruidoso and Roswell, as well as Alpine, Texas.
After the 2011 season, Carlsbad and Ruidoso teams folded, and Santa Fe (“I always wanted to have a team at Marcy Park”) and Trinidad, Colo., took their spots. Dunn let go of Las Cruces at the end of 2012, but added Ratón, Taos and Las Vegas to give the Pecos League a distinct New Mexico flavor.
“The Pecos League is where players get a chance to show what they can do,” said Dunn, listing the American Association and Frontier League as the independent leagues (that is, teams who are not affiliated with any major league organization) above Pecos. “We have a lot of college seniors who are playing pro ball for the first time.”
He experimented with multiple owners in his league, besides himself, and with older players. With each, he found too many problems that were out of his control.
“We are now a 25-and-under rookie league,” said Dunn. “We are built for the younger guy who wants to be here. He wants a shot at moving up the ladder, and we can give that to him.”
Dunn admits he’s not making a living running the Pecos League, relying on other business interests to pay the bills. But a few teams do make money. Taos held its own this season, he said, almost covering expenses that include manager and player salaries, insurance, travel, host hotels, baseballs, uniforms and sundry other costs of running eight teams out there for 64 games in a bit more than two months.
“It really helps to have a team in Texas (Alpine) because those people have had independent baseball for a while and support it,” Dunn said, noting that revenue comes from tickets, concessions, sponsors, and merchandise sales, and he tries not to mix revenues among teams.
In between league ownership duties, Dunn, 39, still finds time to play at least once a week. He actually pitched in two Pecos exhibition games this year.
“I still have to play,” he said. “One outing in Trinidad went well, the other in Santa Fe not so well. But I didn’t give up a run.”
Dunn is optimistic about the Pecos League in the coming years. He’s got eight teams again, just the number he likes for scheduling, talent and consistency.
And he’s proud that players from the Pecos League are showing up on higher independent leagues and on affiliated rosters. On Aug. 15, the Pecos League had its first former player play in a Major League Baseball game. Jon Edwards, who played for Alpine in 2011, pitched in the eighth inning of Texas Rangers game against the Angels. The first batter he faced was Albert Pujols, and he got him to foul out.
The Philadelphia Phillies recently signed Trinidad pitcher Rick Rodesky, the San Francisco Giants signed Bisbee’s Michael Heller and, last fall, the Atlanta Braves inked catcher Chris Costantino, who spent time with the Taos Blizzard in 2013.
“This is the level of baseball where I belong,” Dunn said. “I like to give guys an opportunity to progress, to get signed at the next level.”
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