As the Albuquerque Isotopes open their 12th season of existence Friday, only a couple of things have remained unchanged since the debut season of 2003.
The parent club has changed, from the Florida Marlins to the L.A. Dodgers (in 2009), the general manager’s changed (from Mel Kowalchuk to John Traub in 2004), the ballpark’s undergone some changes (bullpens relocated, new scoreboard, etc.), the managers have been changed (Damon Berryhill is the team’s fifth) and, more than anything else, the ballplayers have changed. In fact, only one player (Jason Wood) and one skipper (Dean Treanor) have worn the Isotopes uniform five seasons.
In that time, there’s only been one mascot, lovable Orbit, and one assistant general manager/director of sales and marketing — Nick LoBue, who lives in Rio Rancho.
Just as Orbit wouldn’t fit in any other organization, LoBue feels the same way.
It’s true, on occasion, he misses the New Mexico Scorpions, for whom he once was the GM.
“I do miss them deep-down,” he said. “I started learning the business and reinventing myself (with the pro hockey team, 1999-2001). I learned sports marketing there…. There was something new every night.”
He still deals — that “art of the deal” he loves so much — with one-time Scorpions fans and advertisers in this role. “There are people here who were with the Scorpions — they support all the sports,” he said.
Although Friday marks the ‘Topes first home game, it’s far from LoBue’s first night of the year. Heck, he’s been at his desk daily, because, he says, “Our sales this off-season are second only to our opening year in ticket sales (same ticket prices as last year) and new corporate sales.”
Following the end of the 2013 season, “I went to Mexico with my family,” he said. “I came back re-energized.”
Strange as it may seem, LoBue rarely sees a ballgame, even though he has a view of part of the field from his second-floor office.
For LoBue, Sales and Marketing, Box Office and Retail Operations, Media Relations, Stadium Operations, Finance and Human Resources, and Ovations Food Services, who wins and who loses each home game might not be known until the following day, when they read the newspaper.
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make every fan’s experience worthwhile.
“We have created a great show while putting on a baseball game,” LoBue said. “Every part of our organization runs on all cylinders, from the green grass to the great food and the ‘shows’.”
Attendance peaked in the 2009 season, when more than 602,000 fans went through the turnstiles. Average per-game attendance dropped to its second-lowest figure in the team’s 11 seasons in 2013, when an average of 7,994 fans was at each of the team’s 71 home games.
Still, the Isotopes ranked third in the Pacific Coast League in attendance for the sixth year in a row.
“This last season was probably one of the worst for weather,” LoBue said. “The wind, the rain. When it’s bad an hour before the game, it hurts the walk-up (ticket purchases).”
But, he noted, “It was a good year from a financial standpoint — and we haven’t raised ticket prices in three years.”
Everyone at the ballpark on the northeast corner of Avenida Cesar Chavez and University Blvd. SE are excited about the new $1 million scoreboard, which LoBue said, “brings new life to an already lively scoreboard.”
The new monstrosity is an “HD10 mm pixel pitch videoboard” that will be the largest HD10 LED display in Minor League Baseball. It contains more than 1.7 million LEDs, while its massive 55-feet-wide by 35-feet-tall high-definition board will be used to feature game information, line score, instant replays, close-ups of players and fans, in-game promotions and corporate partner marketing opportunities.
“Its capabilities are unknown,” LoBue said. “It’s a work in progress.” That new scoreboard, he added, “is the most-important thing to us. It’s a milestone.”
Working for the ‘Topes for a dozen years has provided a nice list of milestones for LoBue, 65 years of age and still looking forward to countless more productive years.
“I can’t see full retirement — ever — in my future,” he said. “Maybe (when I’m) 68, presuming I’m in good health.
“I love what I do and the corporate interaction with corporate Albuquerque,” he said. “I have a passion for the Isotopes.”
But it’s not all business and baseball for LoBue, who has another favorite “team” of sorts. (He also has fond memories of the first team he rooted for, the 1959 “Go Go” White Sox.)
“I get the most pleasure seeing my children and grandchildren getting along together,” he said.