Tucson Saguaros embrace ‘bad guys’ role as top dog in Pecos League | Tucson Sports

Life on the road in the Pecos League, an independent professional baseball league launched in 2011, can be grueling.

The schedule mirrors that of an MLB team: games five to six days a week, frequent travel and long stints away from home. However, absent are the amenities of airfare, five-star hotels and steak dinners.

But that hasn’t stopped the Tucson Saguaros from becoming a powerhouse brand in the Pecos League, having won each of the last two championships and in good position to do it a third straight year this season.

Players on the Tucson Saguaros (25-5), the first-place team in the Pacific Division, carpool together to different parts of California where many of their road games are held, often squeezing in four per vehicle.



Saguaros’ second baseman Patrick Music can’t believe Wasco’s Christian Thorpe  is safe stealing second in the fifth inning Thursday night. Tucson is 25-5 this season and in first place again.



“During spring training in California, we had to bring all of our luggage with us in the car so that was a tough fit,” laughed Saguaros first baseman Brock Ephan. “But now during the season it’s a little easier.”

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And the Saguaros are on the road a lot, more than most in the Pecos League. Tucson played nine games between July 3-12, all on the road. It won all nine.

“We’re the bad guys,” third-year coach Sean McNeill said. “We’re on the road a bunch and we like to ruin the other team’s days and their fans’ days when we go play at their home field.”

Tucson plays any Thursday and Friday home games at Kino Stadium, but the Sun Belt Collegiate League plays at the stadium most other days. Wanting to find more ways to play games close to home, the Saguaros were able to secure four home games to be played at the historic War Memorial Stadium in Nogales.



Saguaros’ catcher Mike Hernandez, right, and the rest of the team get dressed in the dugout hurrying to get ready for the late start against Wasco for a Pecos League baseball game at Kino Veteran’s Memorial Stadium on Thursday. The players have no access to the clubhouse and have to provide their own transportation to games.



The team has already played three of its four in Nogales, with the final one set for July 23.

“It’s a nice field,” McNeil said. “They have a really good reputation down there for baseball and they also keep their field in great shape.”

The members of the league-leading Saguaros come from all over the country — only two players on the current roster are Tucson natives. Ephan, who leads the team with 10 home runs, is from Kauai, Hawaii.

The roster is made up of players from New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas and more. It’s been up to McNeill — who grew up near New Jersey and previously played in the Pecos League — to scout and sign players for the independent pro league.

“All credit goes to Sean, ultimately,” said Ephan on how he got to Tucson.

Ephan and the rest of the players live with host families during the three-month Pecos League which is played every summer. These host families open up their houses for players to stay at during the brief times the players are back in Tucson for a homestand and have become an integral part of the club.



Saguaros catcher Mike Hernandez takes batting practice as the storm clouds roll in over War Memorial Stadium in Nogales earlier this month. The Saguaros are splitting their home slate this year between Tucson’s Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium and War Memorial Stadium in Nogales.



“They do it out of the kindness of their heart,” McNeill said. “A place for our guys to shower and lay their head at night … they’re like an adopted son.”

Some families have become repeat hosts over the years as they’ve established a connection with McNeill.

“It means a lot to have hosts like that,” Ephan said. “Coming back from the road it’s huge, especially for my mental well-being.”



The White family has the grandstand practically to themselves as a constant rain holds up the start of the Saguaros’ first game against Wasco for a Pecos League doubleheader at War Memorial Stadium in Nogales earlier this month.



On the field, the Saguaros are winding down another successful regular season with three more weeks of play before the league tournament starts in August. The Saguaros know they’ll be challenged for a third straight championship, but feel prepared for the grind ahead.

“Now we’re kind of getting in the groove of things,” Ephan said. “Everything feels like it’s going in the right direction.”

Photos: Tucson Saguaros minor league baseball team

Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros catcher Mike Hernandez takes batting practice as the storm clouds roll in over War Memorial Stadium, Nogales, Ariz., July 2, 2022, just before the rains washed out both of the games of a scheduled double header against Wasco. The Saguaros are splitting their home slate this year between Tucson’s Veterans Memorial Stadium and War Memorial Stadium in Nogales.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Wasco’s Brody Perkes (19) looks up to the ump as Saguaros catcher Mike Hernandez (35) tags him out on a double steal attempt in the sixth inning of their Pecos League baseball game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022. The Pecos League is an independent minor league, and one of the lower rungs on the professional ladder, with teams throughout the southwest.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros centerfielder Steve Joyner waits outside Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium with his teammates for the gates to be opened after lighting in the area delayed the start of the night’s game against Wasco, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022. The Saguaros, the defending champs, are currently tied for most Pecos League championships with three titles.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros starting pitcher Frank Dickson walks past a puddle from the afternoon storms as the team gathers for their game against Wasco at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

In the stairways of Kino Memorial Stadium, Saguaros players find ways to kill the time waiting out a lightning delay that held up the start of their game against Wasco, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022. First pitch was delayed by almost two hours due to the weather.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros’ Richard Ware, left, and Brock Ephan play a game of wallball waiting to get into Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium for their Pecos League game against Wasco, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros’ third baseman EJ Taylor writes the names of friends and loved ones on his wrist tape just before first pitch against Wasco in a Pecos League baseball game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros’ starter, lefty Franks Dickson, tosses a strike to Wasco’s lead off batter for a strike the fifth inning of their Pecos League baseball game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Manager Sean McNeil is last man out of the dugout as the lights begin turning off automatically ending the night in the sixth inning and the Saguaros up 9-4 against Wasco in their Pecos League baseball game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros’ second baseman Patrick Music (21) can’t believe Wasco’s Christian Thorpe (15) is safe stealing second in the fifth inning of their Pecos League baseball game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

A trash can of well-warn balls waits outside Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium for the Saguaros’ game against Wasco, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros’ catcher Mike Hernandez (35) and the rest of the team get dressed in the dugout hurrying to get ready for the late start against Wasco for a Pecos League baseball game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022. The players have no access to the clubhouse and have to provide their own transportation to games.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros’ outfielder Chris Iazzetta, left, his girlfriend Danielle Foye and pitcher Hunter Treece while away a rain delay in the upper reaches of War Memorial Stadium, Nogales, Ariz., July 2, 2022. A constant light rain washed out both of the games of the Saguaros’ scheduled double header against Wasco.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Saguaros’ infielder Rod Dobbs tosses a football to himself as the team whiles away a weather delay in the dugout at War Memorial Stadium, Nogales, Ariz., June 30, 2022. The afternoon monsoon storms washed out the Pecos League double header against Wasco.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

June White gets an autograph from Saguaros’ outfielder Steve Joyner during a weather delay on the team’s first game of a double header against Wasco at War Memorial Stadium, Nogales, Ariz., June 30, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

The White family has the grandstand practically to themselves as a constant rain holds up the start of the Saguaros’ first game against Wasco for a Pecos League double header at War Memorial Stadium, Nogales, Ariz., June 30, 2022. Both games were eventually called off due to the weather.



Tucson Saguaros vs Monterey Amberjacks

Saguaro’s shortstop Richard Ware (11) gets in a few tosses to his backhand in the final moments before the he and the rest of the starters head out of the dugout for the start of the game against Monterey for a Pecos League game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2022.



Tucson Saguaros vs Monterey Amberjacks

Saguaro’s head coach Sean McNeill offers some advice to batter Kendon Strachan (32) after he took a foul ball to a tender area in an at bat against Monterey at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2022.



Tucson Saguaros vs Monterey Amberjacks

Saguaro’s second baseman Chris Caffrey (44) puts the tag on Monterey’s Jordan Anderson (3) foiling a steal attempt in the fourth inning of their Pecos League game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2022.



Tucson Saguaros vs Monterey Amberjacks

Saguaro’s Brandon Bradshaw (41) turns from the plate after chasing a pitch in the dirt to strike out against Monterey in the fifth inning of their Pecos League game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2022.



Tucson Saguaros vs Monterey Amberjacks

Saguaro’s third baseman Brock Ephan (50) tracks down a grounder into the hole for the third out in the top of the fifth inning of their Pecos League game against Monterey at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2022.



Tucson Saguaros vs Monterey Amberjacks

Monterey’s first and second basemen get tangled up chasing a pop fly down the right field line by Saguaro’s BJ Minarcin (17) in the sixth inning of their Pecos League game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2022.



Tucson Saguaros vs Monterey Amberjacks

Saguaro’s Kendon Strachan (32) takes a second before stepping into the box against Monterey in the sixth inning of their Pecos League game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2022.



Tucson Saguaros vs Monterey Amberjacks

Saguaro’s head coach Sean McNeill counts out the cash donated during the game from the fans to be split with the night’s outstanding players after a 5-2 win against Monterey in their Pecos League game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2022.



Saguaros vs Wasco Reserve

Players for Wasco Reserve play a round of keepsie-uppsie outside Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium as the weather delays first pitch against the Tucson Saguaros for a Pecos League baseball game, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2022. Lightning in the area pushed the start time of the game back almost two hours on the night.



Contact sports producer Alec White at 573-4161 or [email protected]  

On Twitter: @alecwhite_UA

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