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For Pacheco, an unexpected homecoming

Tacoma first baseman Jordan Pacheco, a La Cueva and UNM alumnus, takes some practice swings at Isotopes Park on Tuesday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Tuesday night was a bonus for Jordan Pacheco.

The Albuquerque native got to spend the evening playing baseball at Isotopes Park — not something he saw coming two weeks earlier.

Pacheco, the former La Cueva High and University of New Mexico star, started this season playing for Arcereros de Monclova of the Mexican League. The 33-year-old planned to finish 2019 with the “Steel Workers,” too.

“It was fun,” Pacheco said of his 33-game stint south of the border. “It’s definitely different down there. People love their baseball and every game’s a fiesta. I had no plans to come back this season, but when this opportunity came up I had to jump on it.”

The opportunity was a free-agent contract Pacheco signed with the Seattle Mariners organization. He was assigned to Triple-A Tacoma last week — just in time for a trip to Albuquerque, where his parents still live.  Pacheco and his wife, Jess, reside in Tempe, Ariz.

Pacheco’s well-timed return to the United States also allowed him to exchange one fiesta for another. A huge announced crowd of 12,828 turned out Tuesday for the latest appearance of the Isotopes’ popular alter egos, los Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico. It was a mixed bag for Pacheco, who finished 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored and some nice defensive plays. The Mariachis held on for a 9-7 victory over Tacoma, but it wasn’t enough to spoil Pacheco’s day

. “I’ve always loved this ballpark,” Pacheco said, “and it’s a chance for me to see my parents and eat some good New Mexican food. I’m really happy to be here.”

Pacheco has logged more than his share of at-bats at Isotopes Park over the years. He played there with La Cueva, UNM, the Colorado Rockies (in exhibition games) and on several occasions with Triple-A teams.

It’s all part of a long baseball journey that includes 377 major league games with the Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds since Colorado drafted Pacheco in 2007.

His best season was 2012, when the former Mountain West Player of the Year hit .309 with 54 RBIs in 132 games with the Rockies. But Pacheco, who was drafted as an infielder, never found a full-time defensive home at the major league level.

Colorado converted him to catcher, and Pacheco has largely been an utility player ever since. He’s played every position but shortstop, center field and pitcher in the majors.

Jordan Pacheco, a La Cueva and UNM alumnus, fields the ground ball of the Isotopes Yonathan Daza and makes the toss to pitcher Tyler Cloyd at first base for the out in the first inning on Tuesday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The beat goes on even now. Pacheco has caught two games and played first base Tuesday.

“The Mariners said they want me to catch and back up,” Pacheco said. “That’s fine. I’m going to have fun and enjoy it.”

As one might expect, Pacheco would dearly love another trip to the majors. His last appearance came with Cincinnati in 2016. But after making the tour with six Triple-A teams, the independent Long Island Ducks and Arcereros de Monclova, Pacheco admits his outlook has changed from when he was first promoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2010.

“Coming up, you’re always so focused on the big leagues and on yourself,” Pacheco said. “There’s just one goal and everything’s so serious.

“My career’s been an experience, and I’ve learned to appreciate the game more. I’m in a position now to help younger guys, and one thing I’ll tell them is to have fun with it. Baseball’s really competitive, but you’ve got to take some time to enjoy it.”

Pacheco knows this week’s series could be his last as a player at Isotopes Park. It’s Tacoma’s final visit to Albuquerque in 2019, and Pacheco plans to enjoy it.

“Getting back to the big leagues is always the goal, and that would be a dream come true,” he said. “But right now, I’m happy where I am.”