Monday’s unseasonable snowfall in Albuquerque didn’t bother John Traub one bit.
That in itself is a sign of strange times. The Albuquerque Isotopes’ home opener against Salt Lake was scheduled for Tuesday night and Traub, the club’s general manager, typically would have been stressed about getting the field and ballpark ready for baseball after such inclement weather.
Instead, with major and minor league games on hold because of coronavirus restrictions, Traub was content to stay home and watch the flakes fall.
“First time in 33 years I’m not worried about the weather,” Traub said.
Monday marked the one-month milestone since Traub’s last appearance at Isotopes Park. Head groundskeeper Clint Belau is the only member of the Isotopes’ 29-member full-time staff who has been working regularly at the ballpark during the shutdown. Rio Grande Credit Union Field, named such after the facility’s new title sponsor, is ready for baseball in spite of a little late snow, Traub said.
Just when the playing field, grandstands and concession areas will be needed remains far less certain. Traub and officials for the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s other 15 franchises have held multiple (online) meetings in recent weeks, but questions about the 2020 season far outnumber any definitive answers.
“Major League Baseball wants to play this season and the minor leagues want to follow suit,” Traub said. “If major league teams play, especially at their home stadiums, they’re going to need minor league support at least at the higher levels.
“When will the season start and what’s it going to look like? I don’t know. For now we’re just trying to communicate and make sure everyone stays ready.”
First-year Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer is in a similar quandary. Schaeffer and his family were in Arizona last month when spring training was abruptly halted. They’re now hunkered down at the Schaeffers’ Pittsburgh-area home.
“It took us three days to drive here when spring training stopped,” Schaeffer said. “I really didn’t want to put my family on a plane at that point. Albuquerque was on the direct path so we stopped there for some Rudy’s barbecue, but that’s the only time I’ve been there since December.”
During spring training, Schaeffer was focused on how the Isotopes’ roster might shake out. He also intended to reconfigure the manager’s office at Isotopes Park before opening day.
“All that’s on the back burner now,” he said. “We all want to get the season rockin’ and rollin’, but we have to be safe first. That’s the priority.”
In the meantime, Isotopes Park stands quiet.
The Isotopes held their annual job fair in January and hired seasonal employees to work both baseball and New Mexico United soccer games at the park this spring and summer but those positions are on hold. Full-time Isotopes employees other than Belau are working remotely and trying to keep the club on fans’ minds. Examples include rebroadcasts of memorable ‘Topes games on Facebook Live and last week’s Isotopes Community Art Project with submissions posted on Twitter and on the team’s website.
“The Isotopes have always provided a level of distraction from daily life and we want to keep doing that,” Traub said. “You don’t have to look far for negative news right now and it’s unsettling for everyone. We’re trying to be at least a small sign of hope and remind people that when it’s safe we’ll be ready to open the gates.”
TICKET INFO: Fans who purchased advance tickets for games postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions will have an opportunity to exchange them once a determination about the 2020 season is been made. Information about individual and season tickets, packages and promotions is posted on the team’s website, www.abqisotopes.com.
PLAYER POSSIBILITIES: Also listed on the Isotopes’ website is a 33-player roster for 2020 that is anything but final. Triple-A rosters are limited to 25 active players during the regular season and many of those on the current list are unlikely to appear in Albuquerque.
Schaeffer estimates players will need at least three weeks of training before any games can be played, and he expects rosters to change dramatically when baseball activities resume. Major League rosters are frozen during the coronavirus suspension with transactions prohibited.
Still, the tentative ‘Topes roster holds some intriguing possibilities. The pitching staff includes former major leaguers Ubaldo Jimenez and Daniel Bard, both attempting comebacks after not pitching since 2017. The roster includes six members of the parent Colorado Rockies’ 40-man roster, four pitchers along with infielder Tyler Nevin and outfielder Yonathan Daza. Nevin, the son of former major leaguer Phil Nevin, is the youngest player on the roster at 22.