The experiment worked.
After a strong 2018 debut with tremendous fan and community acclaim, the return of the Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico, the alter ego of the Albuquerque Isotopes, was a no-brainer for 2019. But Isotopes Vice President and General Manager John Traub had an idea. Instead of just four games, how about five? And instead of just waiting until later in the season to roll out the popular promotion that was part of Minor League Baseball’s Copa de la Diversion event series, why not see if it could inject a dose of excitement into a traditionally decent, but not always highly attended, spot on the early season ’Topes schedule?
By 2 p.m. on Saturday, Traub had his answer.
“I looked outside my office window and saw fans already starting to show up to get in line,” Traub said. “I thought we’d do well, but that even surprised me a little.”
By the time the gates opened at 5:30 p.m., there were more than 1,000 fans already in line being entertained by dancers and mariachi music with the hopes of getting one of the 2,500 free blankets that were part of the promotion. And the game itself didn’t disappoint, either.
The announced 9,764 fans, a significant attendance jump over the 6,121 announced for the first Saturday home game last April, saw the Mariachis beat visiting Salt Lake 3-2.
The win came, in large part, thanks to a 2-run homer in the sixth inning by their Triple-A rookie first baseman Roberto Ramos, who happens to carry the nickname the “Mariachi Masher.”
And in his season debut, shortstop Peter Mooney made a web-gem diving defensive stop in the second inning that wowed the home fans. It even caught the attention of ESPN’s Sports Center as its No. 1 play of the day on the network’s Sports Center Top 10.
“You always worry a little that the sequel is rarely as good as the the first one, right?” said Kurt Hunzeker, MILB’s Vice President for Marketing Strategy & Research, who flew to Albuquerque for the game. “But this was a great night and a great response from the community.”
Hunzeker, who spearheaded the Copa de la Diversion series last year with 33 teams participating (72 are taking part this season), said after last year’s Mariachis success he received calls from youth teams around the country asking for permission to use the Mariachis name for their little league level softball and baseball teams from California to Florida.
Closer to home, Traub said success of the promotion was less about the numbers and more about the interaction he’s had with fans since debuting the Mariachis concept last season.
“I’ve had people come up to me and thank me for how we did it,” Traub said. “I’ve had people tonight stop me and thank me. It’s been amazing.”
The ’Topes’ next Mariachi night is May 18 against El Paso.
MARIACHI MASHER: Ramos, dubbed since his 2017 season at High-A Lancaster (Calif.) as the “Mariachi Masher” because he’s a home run hitter whose walk-up music is Mariachi music, was 1-for-4 Saturday. But his hit was a laser shot to right field that gives him three homers in three games with the ‘Topes.
MARIACHI MOONEY: Saturday night wasn’t all about the bats. Salt Lake’s Wilfredo Tovar sent a grounder up the middle in the top of the second inning. Mooney, moving to his left, made a diving stop and, while laying on his stomach, threw the ball from his glove, behind his back, toward second baseman Brendan Rodgers, who caught the ball and made the out at second of baserunner Cesar Puello.
FUENTES: Popular Isotopes infielder Josh Fuentes was called up by the Colorado Rockies on Saturday to help out while former ‘Tope Ryan McMahon is on the 10-day injured list with a left elbow strain. Fuentes singled to left field in his first Major League at-bat against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
SCHEDULE: After closing this home series on Monday, Albuquerque flies to Reno to begin its first road series of the 2019 season.