Taos Blizzard to leave town for new home in Kansas

Pecos League owner cites lack of town, business support

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After two seasons in Taos, the independent Taos Blizzard will be moving to Garden City, Kan., for the 2015 Pecos League baseball season.

League owner Andrew Dunn told The Taos News that an inability to line up discounted hotel rooms for next season’s spring training in Taos for the Blizzard and Santa Fe Fuego was the final straw. Last spring, the two teams brought in about 60 players to try out for the regular season.

“We were happy in Taos and all we wanted to do was break even,” said Dunn, who didn’t rule out returning to Taos in 2016. “I’m disappointed in myself, but the bottom line was if you can’t host spring training in your town, then how can you host a regular team?”

The Taos Municipal Schools supported the team, Dunn said, with use of the Taos High School ballfield and installation of lights. Host families had players live in their homes. However, he didn’t get much backing from the town of Taos and only a bit from local businesses.

“We have cities that want us,” he said. “It’s a sad day for us. In other markets, we get financial support from the cities. They want the Pecos League in their city, and they promote and help.”

The Pecos League is one of eight independent professional baseball leagues in the country. Teams are not affiliated with any major league team and are stocked with under-25 players who look to catch the eye of a major-league organization by their performances in an independent league. Last season, the first former Pecos League player played in the big leagues, and two players from 2014 Pecos League team rosters inked major-league contracts after the season.

The Blizzard came to Taos in 2013 as a “traveling team” based in Las Vegas. The Blizzard played just 15 games at Cárdenas Field – renamed by the league as The Tundra – and finished last in the Northern Division at 24-42. Last summer, the players lived in Taos and played a full 36-game home schedule here, finished 22-40 in the 10-team league.

Norm Cutliff, an active supporter of the Blizzard, told The Taos News that a lack of commitment by various town organizations, including the Taos County Chamber of Commerce and Taos Sports Alliance, spelled doom for the team.

“This town had a hard time seeing baseball as an economic development driver,” Cutliff said. “They’re energies were too scattered.”

Taos High athletic director Nicki McCarty, who had worked with Dunn to share the high school facility, said she was “stunned” by the announcement.

“We met in September and things seemed good at that time,” McCarty said. “But, out of the blue, this happened. He said they couldn’t get community support, and I was surprised to hear that.”

During spring training in April, the Blizzard shared the baseball field, batting cages and dugouts with the Taos High varsity and junior varsity teams. During the Blizzard’s May-July season, the Taos adult baseball league also used the field – fairly heavy usage for a natural grass field, according to some. Then, before the season, the crews that installed new lights cut an irrigation line, which delayed watering of the field for 4-6 weeks.

“That field was fragile,” McCarty said. “There was a lot of traffic, but we were working on it to get it ready for the high school season and spring training.”

The Taos High culinary program sold ballpark food at the games, but McCarty said she didn’t think the students had made enough money to cover their expenses and probably wasn’t going to do it again this season. Santa Fe Brewing Company sold beer at the games, too.

Miguel Quintana, the new Taos High varsity baseball coach, told The Taos News that he was “disappointed” that the Blizzard was leaving but saw opportunities from their departure.

“I’m disappointed because I’m a baseball guy,” said Quintana, who headed the Taos Little League for a number of years. “But this is a chance to invest more in the kids and get the Blizzard fan base to come watch Taos High baseball. It’s an obvious call to the community, Taos County and the Town of Taos that we need more baseball facilities. The demand is there.”

The coach also noted that less activity will give the grass field “a chance to rest.” He also said that without the Blizzard on the field during the summer, he will push to host summer tournaments in Taos as money-makers for the town.

The Pecos League will now field two five-team divisions. The Northern Division will feature Garden City Wind, Trinidad (Colo.) Triggers, Santa Fe Fuego and Las Vegas Train Robbers. The Southern Division will have Alpine (Texas) Cowboys, White Sands Pupfish, Las Cruces Vaqueros and Roswell Invaders. Teams from Raton, Douglas (Ariz.) and Bisbee (Ariz.) were dropped right after the season.

“I just don’t think we ever turned the corner in Taos,” Dunn said. “There was a good number of faithful fans here but not enough community support.”

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