The Taos Blizzard took off on their longest road trip of the season Wednesday (June 11). The Blizzard headed to Arizona to take the Pecos League’s two expansion teams — the Douglas Diablos and the Bisbee Blue.
The Blizzard, however, weren’t able to leave the injury bug behind them. After traveling nine hours and playing the same night, Taos left fielder Brandon Cooksey pulled a muscle in his calf. The injury happened after Douglas’ coach told Taos Manager Chris Tuttle that people don’t home runs at Douglas’ field — and Cooksey proved him wrong by hitting one over the fence in his only at bat of the road trip. The home run was his league-leading 11th dinger in just 88 at bats. Later in the game, however, Cooksey cramped while chasing down a foul ball and strained his leg.
Second baseman Jared Hunt got injured when a pitch hit him in the hand. Now he can’t grip the bat. The team’s other second baseman Alex Loftin has been on the disabled list (DL) for two weeks too. The team’s leading hitter and center fielder Dominic San Fellipo also got injured on the road trip — stepping on the first baseman’s foot while trying to get on base. Earlier in the series San Felippo made a catch at the warning track and threw out a runner who tagged and tried advancing to third base.
“It was beautiful to watch,” Tuttle said.
Catchers Brian Rich is also on the DL while Matt Kaldon has been trying to get his timing back after missing some games with a concussion.
Despite all of the injuries, Taos has had plenty of other bright spots. Dayron Silva Perez won his last two appearances for the Blizzard. Before Taos headed to Arizona for eight games, he led the Blizzard to an 11-6 win over Ratón (June 10), pitching seven innings while also tripling and driving in three runs. San Felippo and Evan Mansell both homered in the game too. On June 15, Silva Perez pitched seven score-less innings to lead the Blizzard to a 10-2 victory over the Bisbee Blue. “He’s really coming into his own,” Tuttle said. “He’s very competitive and he wants nothing more than he wants to win. It’s exciting.” San Felippo hit his fifth home run in that game, scored three runs and knocked in four RBIs. Steve Taft also drove in two runs and stole three bases in the win.
Taos’ other win of the week was the day after a heart-breaker. On June 12, Taos took a 9-7 lead into the ninth inning, but the Diablos rallied to win it. “That game was pretty much won, but Douglas came back and took it from us,” Tuttle said. “A game like that can really break you down, but we bounced back and won the next game.”
On June 13, Jordan Kraus made his professional pitching debut for the Blizzard and only gave three earned runs in six innings. “He gave us a great opportunity to win the game and that’s what we did,” Tuttle said. Taft and Kaldon both had three RBIs in the win.
Pitchers Alex Basso and Connor Sullivan also joined the team’s rotation in Arizona.
First baseman Mike Lange has also had a hot bat in Arizona. In one game he went 4-5, homered and knocked in three RBIs. “He’s been crushing the ball,” Tuttle said.
Spending a long time on the road, and staying in a hotel reportedly haunted by Pancho Villa, helped the Blizzard bond a little more. It also made them yearn to get home.
The Blizzard (9-20, through June 16) are currently in last place in the Pecos League’s Northern Division as the season nears its mid-point, meaning every game from here on out will have extra importance for the team. “It’s do-or-die time,” Tuttle said. “You’ll start seeing more intensity and motivation to win games.”
The Blizzard were only a couple of games behind Ratón (11-19) and Las Vegas (12-18), but were six games behind Trinidad (15-14) who was in position to snag the Northern League’s final playoff spot. The Santa Fe Fuego (20-12) lead the North.
In the Southern Division, the Alpine Cowboys (25-11) are currently in first place, followed by the Roswell Invaders (22-12), Bisbee (19-15), Douglas (15-18) and White Sands Pupfish (12-20).
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