"The Pecos League," currently being featured as a six-episode reality show on FOX Sports 1, has everything you would expect from an independent baseball league in which players make $50.00 a week - a website that appears to have been designed in 1999, crazy team names (Las Vegas Train Robbers, Roswell Invaders), communal living, rivalries, financial hardship, camaraderie and big dreams.
"It's such a hard sport to climb the ladder in," says Triggers outfielder Sam DiMatteo in a press release. "There's so many guys that get unnoticed. It's so easy to fall through the cracks. But how are you going to know if you don't go after it? There's always a chance. It's a small chance, so I plan on going until the wheels absolutely fall off."
The league consists of teams from Colorado, New Mexico and West Texas. Players experience long bus rides, junk food and budget motels. And sometimes they play in front of very few fans.
One episode shows a Trinidad player in the dugout before a home game who says he counted every fan in the stands. The total? Thirty-seven. The camera cuts to Kim Schultz, director of business operations, who says they took in $236. She shakes her head in concern.
A nun prays with players before a game.
Andrew Azzopardi, who plays for the Triggers at the time of the filming (which appears to be the 2013 season), throws several temper tantrums after poor performances. Neither his manager nor his teammates are thrilled about his actions. But after learning he has been traded to the Taos Blizzard, his former Trigger teammates surround him to show their support and to give him mementos. Your brother might get on your nerves sometimes, but he's still your brother.
"Go win a championship," are his parting words.
A bat boy named Jeremiah Montoya grieves to the point of tears after learning Azzopardi has been traded because Azzopardi has treated him so well. Azzopardi signs a bat for Jeremiah before he leaves.
Brock Brunelli, another Trinidad bat boy, is shown swinging a bat and pretending to be a hero. We see the inside of his room, where he proudly displays autographed cards from Trigger players and an autographed ball from the team at the beginning of the season. He points out that some of the players are no longer with the team, fully understanding that player movement is part of the game.
Triggers pitcher Tony Smith is informed by his manager that they are trying to get him a look in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. But, as Smith points out, getting anybody at higher levels - including scouts - to come to the Pecos League isn't exactly easy.
"Baseball is an extremely political game," he says. "You have to know someone who knows a scout, or you have to know a scout personally. You have to be friends with them or they won't come watch you or you won't get called up."
Eventually, Andrew Dunn, the Pecos League commissioner, calls him and says he needs to be in El Paso by the end of the day. He is presented with a contract for $800 a month, without housing, to pitch for the Double-A El Paso Diablos. The next night, he dons an El Paso uniform, pitches well, but injures his hand. So he chooses to return to Trinidad to rehab and finish out the season with the Triggers.
This is life in the lower levels of the game.
The series - which runs on Tuesday nights at 9:30 ET from May 13 until June 17 - personifies struggle and gives fans an inside look at what players experience. My only complaint about the program is that it is only going to consist of six thirty-minute episodes.