Monday, April 18, 2016

Tacoma Rainiers 10 at Albuquerque Isotopes 7 (11, PCL) - April 17, 2016

When I did my 2001 road trip to all 30 MLB ballparks, the Albuquerque Dukes had just moved to Portland, meaning that there was no pro team in New Mexico to check out when I drove through. In 2003, the Calgary Cannons moved to Albuquerque and became the Isotopes, but the city's relatively remote location made it difficult to visit when I was living in Asia. Only now that I reside in the USA can I take a quick trip to the Land of Enchantment and finally see a game in New Mexico.

The team plays out of Isotopes Park, located right across the street from the University of New Mexico's football stadium. Parking in all surrounding lots is $5, but on weeknights and weekends,  you can park for free on Buena Vista Drive. Before you go in, check out some of the art on display, including this pitching sculpture by local artist Bill Arms (no pun intended).

Tickets start at $8 for berm seats, and there is no reason to pay more as the stadium is huge and you can generally sit in the reserved seats down the lines without too much trouble. There are standing areas just above first and third base with small tables on which you can rest your scorebook.

As rain was threatening, I sat in the upper section you see above, as it was covered and nearly empty. Just to the left is the suite area, which comprises two levels. The view from the upper level is below.

The advantage of sitting here is that you get dibs on foul balls. I was sitting on the aisle seat in the last row, but moved a few seats to the right as the game got underway. Just 5 pitches in, Boog Powell (20th round in 2012 by Oakland, since traded twice) fouled one that landed on the seat I had just vacated. It didn't bounce away, so I scampered over to pick it up, my first PCL foul ball. The Isotopes give anybody that gets a foul ball a glass holder with the team logo, a really nice touch.

The Sandia Crest provides great views beyond centerfield, but on this cloudy day, it was mostly obscured.

The park has a great selection of food, though it is rather expensive for minor league ball. There is also a fun zone for kids in right field. The unique ballpark feature is in center field, where there is a small knoll and the fence is actually curved in.

The Isotopes nickname is taken from the Simpsons, whose Springfield Isotopes threatened to move to Albuquerque back in 2001 in an episode that saw Homer go on a hunger strike. When the new franchise arrived in 2003, fans voted for the Isotopes nickname in a landslide. New Mexico has a strong scientific community and so the name fits in more ways than one, and the team led all of minor league baseball in merchandise sales during its first season. The Simpsons are present in the ballpark in the form of statues and washroom entrances.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time here and will be back for another game on Wednesday night.

The Game

Although the weather was chilly, the rain held off, and the teams put on an entertaining display. Tacoma (Seattle's affiliate) took a 3-0 lead in the first helped by a Mike Zunino homer, his fourth in four games. Zunino was the 3rd overall pick in 2012 out of Florida but struggled in three seasons in Seattle, batting .193 in over 1,000 plate appearances. He might be a AAAA player but if he keeps this up, the Mariners will call him up soon to find out for sure. Anyway, Albuquerque (Colorado) tied it in the second and added 2 in the third and 2 more in the fifth to take a 7-3 lead. Isotope starter Eddie Butler (46th overall, 2012) left with the lead after 6 solid frames, but Simón Castro gave up a leadoff homer to Rob Brantly (3rd round in 2010 by Detroit) and Tacoma tacked on a double and four weak singles to tie the game. The bats dried up after that, and we went to the 11th still knotted at 7. Nelson Gonzalez came on for Albuquerque and loaded the bases on a single and two walks. With two out, Ed Lucas, who enjoyed a couple of seasons with the Marlins, came to the plate. He was 0/5 but had hit the ball well a couple of times and seemed due. Sure enough, he crushed one to center that cleared the bases and allowed former Cub Blake Parker the easy save as Tacoma won 10-7.

Powell (above shattering his bat) went 0-6 while the rest of his team pounded out 19 hits. That's gotta hurt. There's the final below on the very impressive scoreboard.

A very interesting game, with no single run innings, 32 total hits, and no errors. Only five walks too, so it had a decent pace.


I still have to see games in Alaska, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming to complete all 50 states.

Next Up

I'm heading to Texas Monday to see a couple of games in Midland before returning to the Mountain Time Zone on Tuesday for a game in El Paso. The trip finishes on Wednesday back in ABQ as the New Mexico Lobos have an afternoon game while the 'Topes play in the evening. Check back for updates!



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