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Fans thrilled to see Rockies in town

Fans Devion Shendo, 9, left, along with Gage Hengst, 9, center, and his brother Ethen Hengst, 11, far right, try to get Rockies’ players’ attention for an autograph. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Albuquerque has long been a Dodgers town. But Monday afternoon, Isotopes Park was a sea of purple and not Dodgers blue.

The Colorado Rockies’ appearance for an exhibition game against the ‘Topes was the sixth game featuring a Major League Baseball team at Isotopes Park – and the first for the Isotopes as one of the teams since they beat the defending World Series champion Marlins in 2004.

“This is something the city actually made a decision to invest in with the Isotopes, and it’s a treat for our fans,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said. “You’ve got a Major League team here and a lot of good players, and the fans are pumped. With autographs and batting practice, fans have been out here since 10 o’clock just enjoying Major League Baseball.”

An announced crowd of 12,222 turned out for the game, and many were wearing their Rockies gear.

The festivities kicked off with Keller, wearing a personalized Isotopes jersey, throwing out the first pitch.

“I was a washed-up pitcher from middle school and high school, so I was just glad I could get over the plate and remotely close to the strike zone,” Keller said. “It was a lot of fun.”

The game was fun as well.

Longtime Rockies fans Mitzi and Randy Thompson made the 178-mile one-way drive from Aztec to watch their favorite MLB team play the Isotopes.

“It’s fantastic, because usually we have to go all the way to Denver to see the Rockies,” Mitzi said. “But today, they’re right here.”

Jose Chavez and his 4-year-old son were at Isotopes Park decked out in their Rockies gear. Chavez, originally from Denver but now living in Albuquerque, has been a Rockies fan since the team’s inaugural season in 1993.

“I’m glad the Isotopes are part of the Rockies now since it’s easier to see them,” Chavez said. “It’s cool that my kid gets to see them now.”

John Dame, sporting a Rockies cap, said he’s become a fan of the team partly because of the connection to Albuquerque. He also spends a lot of time in Denver and makes sure to catch a game at Coors Field when he can.

“This is a great day. I hope it happens more often,” Dame said.

Not everyone enjoying the game was there to cheer on the Rockies.

Shawn Green, a diehard fan of the Chicago White Sox, has been an Isotopes season-ticket holder since 2010. That same year was the last time an MLB exhibition game was played at Isotopes Park when the Rockies beat the Seattle Mariners.

“It’s awesome seeing a major league team play in this stadium,” Green said. “We’ve been waiting for it since 2010.”

Minor league baseball in Albuquerque was connected to the Los Angeles Dodgers on and off for 47 years, beginning in 1963 and ending in 2014.

The Isotopes began play in 2003 as a Marlins affiliate and were the Dodgers’ Triple-A team from 2009-2014. The affiliation with the Rockies began in 2015.

While the relationship between Albuquerque and the Rockies is young, the showing of fans Monday signified it has plenty of potential.

“I think over time, the younger generation will be Rockies fans,” Keller said. “Just geographically, the Rockies make a lot of sense with sending players back and forth. Now (that) a lot of Burqueños live in Denver, I think it’s a good fit.”

In the eighth inning, Isotopes vice president/general manager John Traub stood near the front of the merchandise store, taking in the sight of a flood of fans buying apparel.

“I am continually amazed in terms of ticket sales, merchandise, everything, how people support this franchise,” Traub said. “It’s a baseball town. It’s a very, very, very good baseball town. They support not only the Isotopes but whoever the Major League affiliate is. There’s a ton of purple in the stands today, and I’m very pleased to see that.”

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