September 22, 2021 336 PM
MARFA — Marfa has great reach across the country in the art news, however there’s another cultural institution rivaling that reach and connection — baseball, and specifically Los Yonke Gallos, the team that defies explanation. This Saturday at noon the team will play against the Austin Playboys in an annual sandlot challenge during the Trans-Pecos Festival.
Every team member who spoke with The Big Bend Sentinel suggested it was Joey Benton who started the team, and Benton agreed that he was at least a part of the conversation. Benton, the owner of a custom design and fabrication studio, and a handful of others agreed to form a team to play against the “old timers” who were over the age of 32, “and now we are that,” Benton said.
Definitive answers are hard to come by about any aspect of the team, and yet all agree it’s great when they are out running around, playing for fun and beer is involved. Whether playing locally or far afield in games in Ft Stockton, Alpine, Oklahoma and Pecos through the seasons, Los Yonke Gallos have had a rotating lineup of Marfa players.
The composition of the team shifts yearly, and sometimes week to week, as players start businesses, have babies, get busy in a myriad of ways and sometimes cycle back in as life shifts again.
The recent game against the Tulsa, Oklahoma team had the most players team member Ross Cashiola has ever seen, and he’s been playing since 2007. Cashiola, a musician, artist and fabricator, allows that his attendance at practices has become fewer and farther between as he’s gotten another business under development. Cloudy’s Desert Bistro, a food truck debuting at Trans-Pecos this weekend, has taken him away from the game.
So far away that players he’s never seen have thrown on a jersey and played, becoming part of the team while his attention was elsewhere. Will Cashiola be able to pull away to pitch and maybe get in an at bat? Will he show up in his crushed blue velvet blazer with baseball pants posing as the GM? It’s happened before.
J.D. Garcia, a lifelong Marfan, explained that many of the players have jobs connected to the festival, so they may only show up for a couple of innings, as they have staging demands or are preparing for performances. He himself is on the schedule to work on Saturday, so he’s unsure how much of the game he will play. He’s also been known to show up in a blue blazer and take on manager duties.
Michael Camacho, a long-time member and one-time manager (who claims the manager basically lugs the gear) happily acts as treasurer now. It’s much easier managing money rather than the team policy that tequila is not allowed in the dugout until the seventh inning, he said. Once, the team suffered a stinging loss, giving up a double-digit lead before the anti-tequila policy was put in place. Beer, however, is encouraged throughout the game.
Jack Sanders started the Austin Playboys team in Austin and brought Camacho out to work at El Cosmico. Six months into living here back in 2009, Camacho played for the Playboys and was soundly booed and called Benedict Arnold by the Los Yonke Gallos. Ever since, he has played on the town team and has become one of the dedicated pillars of the group, occasionally waxing poetic about the game.
“We are definitely not in it to win it. I just want to play baseball. As a kid with an overbearing dad who had played semi-pro and wanted me to be good, I felt the pressure,” Camacho said. “I’m better now than I ever was as a kid.” One perk among Los Yonke Gallos, Camacho explained, is, “Nobody’s dad is telling you what you did wrong.”
Knowing the game isn’t even a prerequisite. Rookies make up nearly 50% of the team at times, and some have literally never played baseball before. Somehow these players get field time and the patience needed to develop the skills. Anthony DeSimone says some hand-eye coordination helps, and with a wildly uneven playing surface, some may win a free trip to the oral surgeon in El Paso. Even the skilled Carlos Lujan had to make that El Paso trip years ago.
In spite of DeSimone’s claims that he tries to “abstain from sports as much as I can,” he has enjoyed how the team has pulled together this year and still maintained “some amount of beloved dysfunction.” As more players show up, the momentum builds, and collectively, also the spirit. They chose the jersey design, which changes every year, as a team, which many have mentioned as a solid accomplishment.
Sometimes, “It’s 80% emails and 20% games and no practices,” he said. DeSimone credits Molly Walker with sorting through those emails and turning “chatter into a plan.” Walker put it, “I have a way of filtering through the dude chatter.”
She also seconded the “be ready so you don’t get hurt” aspect of the game. Walker grew up in Alpine, a baseball town, and was coached by rancher Dayna Yarborough through her Little League years. Yarborough put considerable energy in empowering them to throw the ball and be tough. That legacy is part of what inspired Molly to play again 20 years after Little League. Walker met her partner on the team when they started the same season. The pair are moving this coming Saturday, and yes, baseball and moving gods willing, Walker plans to play before they leave.
Walker also remarked on the “mysterious” composition of the team, players who grew up here, those living here a decade or more, some who played baseball in college or semi-pro in Mexico, and some others, like the guy who rolled up on a motorcycle and joined practice. According to Walker, “Camacho has been an important part of the cohesion throughout the years,” and yet he sees Marfa as “fickle.”
Some play for a season, think they did that and move on. Meanwhile, Joey Benton may have started the team and subsequently stepped away from playing, however this summer, his 21-year-old son Felix joined up while in town and brought intergenerational play to the plate.
This year’s T-shirt will be available at the game. Camacho happily claims Luddite status, and only accepts cash for the shirts. Other team members have Venmo and will accommodate those purchases. For the first time ever the team had a sponsor this year who gifted them $500. They were able to purchase batting helmets and gloves and pay for the shirts and travel.
So as happens every year, on Saturday at the sandlot, a singer will emerge from the stands, maybe drafted from the musical talent in town by Liz Lambert, no one seems sure, to sing the national anthem. “We just show up,” claimed Camacho. Once again he will be in charge of the walk-up music, including the rooster crows over the curse words in select songs. Biff Bolen and David Branch will share the announcer’s booth. Game time is at noon, and Marfa’s hotdog vendor Weinertown will be there to feed the crowd. It’s the game of the year, where it’s discovered who wakes up the base paths and bleacher fans, who’s got a good arm and how much “slapstick,” according to one player, can be packed into one game.