The Roswell Invaders being a new era tonight.
After serving as an assistant coach for the past couple of seasons Relly Mercurio takes his turn as manager as the White Sands Pupfish come to Joe Bauman Stadium for the season opener.
The new boss admits that a lot of people in the Roswell community don’t know the Pecos League team exists and one of his priorities this year is general awareness.
“We’re doing a lot more community involvement,” Mercurio said. “We went to Monterrey Elementary and some of the guys played a kickball game against some of the fifth graders (Wednesday).”
Mercurio said the job promotion has more responsibility than being an assistant. However, he sees an upside.
“I get to build my own team this year,” Mercurio said. “We have five guys returning from last year and a couple of guys that played from some other teams.”
Shortstop Louie Martini is one of the returners and Mercurio feels he has been popular with Invader fans over the years.
One of the new players Mercurio has praise for is outfielder Brian Portelli. The Michigan native hit the long ball recently in a couple of spring training games.
“He can really hit,” Mercurio said. “He’ll be our clean up hitter.”
Portelli has prior baseball experience with the Southern Illinois Miners.
Mercurio said the Invaders have only been in Roswell for a week.
“This is the first time ever we hosted spring training,” Mercurio said. “Santa Fe’s team was here as well. They were practicing in the morning and we did our spring training with them last Thursday. We went to Alamogordo Saturday night and played White Sands. But, usually, there are two teams in the same city for spring training. Last year we were in Alamogordo for spring training and played them three times in spring training games.”
This is the eighth year for the independent league and during its history, the Invaders have won three championships. Mercurio feels the team has fallen short in the last few years.
“We got swept in the best-of-three championship series last year,” Mercurio said. “We won the Mountain Division and fell short of our goal and finished second the last two years of the regular season.”
This season the Pecos League is divided into three divisions as the league stretches from Kansas to California.
“Our division is Ruidoso, White Sands, and Tucson,” Mercurio said. “Ruidoso is kind of the traveling team of the league. I think they only have three home games. It’s a tough life for them, I’ve been in a traveling team in the league and it’s tough. If I had to guess we’ll probably be battling Tucson for the division title this year.”
Mercurio has spent a good chunk of his life in the independent leagues as a player and coach.
“I made it to the United League, which was in Texas,” Mercurio said. “But, it doesn’t exist anymore. It was another independent league, it was higher than the Pecos League.”
Mercurio’s last year as a player was 2014, and then he turned his attention to managing.
“The opportunity presented itself to take the manager job here,” Mercurio said. “It’s kind of one of those places, you kind of have to know what’s going on to be successful.”
Besides being the manager, Mercurio’s role could also be viewed as a teacher and mentor.
“My goal is to get every one of those guys in the clubhouse moved up,” Mercurio said. “It’s more about them than it is about me. I’m trying to provide the best place to play at for them and hopefully, they can take at least one thing away from playing for me, that they can use not even in baseball, but life in general.”
The Invaders and the Pecos League don’t have any major league affiliations and Mercurio said life in the independent leagues can be tough.
“Little pay and live with a host family,” Mercurio said are a couple of things that people have to deal with. “Travel is usually on your own unless you’re in one of the higher up independent leagues. Guys do carpool and drive their own cars to away games. It’s a tough life but the guys that are here love the game.”
Mercurio is thankful that the Invaders don’t have to travel far this season.
“The only time we would play the California teams is if we were in a championship series,” Mercurio said. “We actually have a really good home schedule this year with 38 home games out of 64. We only have four series where we’re staying in hotels.”
The Invaders host the Pupfish at 7 p.m., today at Joe Bauman Stadium.