Warren Schaeffer is bringing new meaning to the term long-awaited debut.
Nearly 16 months after he was introduced as manager of the Albuquerque Isotopes, Schaeffer is still waiting on deck for his first game as skipper. The Triple-A baseball Isotopes are scheduled to open the 2021 season at home May 6, a date Schaeffer says cannot arrive soon enough.
“I’m champing at the bit to get there,” Schaeffer said Wednesday during a media Zoom call. “I’ve been hearing about Isotopes Park for a long time — too long,— and getting fans back in the stands is going to be really good for everyone. Baseball is theater at its finest, in my opinion, and fans make it work.”
For the time being, Schaeffer is spending his days at the Colorado Rockies’ alternate training site, Metro State University in Denver. He’s working with players, some of whom will soon end up on Albuquerque’s roster, and there’s plenty of on-field instruction.
Still, it doesn’t feel like baseball, Schaeffer said.
“We’re just practicing every day and playing intrasquad games,” he said. “We’re ready to play baseball. Guys got to play some games in spring training, but even those are not the same, and coaches are anxious, too. I haven’t managed a game since 2019. I can’t wait.”
The coronavirus pandemic, of course, is responsible for delaying Schaeffer’s Isotopes debut. Minor League Baseball’s entire 2020 season was canceled, and Opening Day for 2021 has been pushed back roughly a month.
There have been a few benefits, Schaeffer said. He was able to spend more time with his wife and kids than usual last summer before reporting to the Rockies’ alternate training site during the MLB’s abbreviated 2020 season.
But the 35-year-old Isotopes manager is now refocused on baseball. He says he’s got a rough idea of what Albuquerque’s roster might look like next month but that remains fluid depending on the Rockies’ needs and roster moves in the interim.
Whenever the Isotopes roster is finalized, Schaeffer plans to taylor his managerial style to its strengths. Player development remains job one for any minor league ballclub, but Schaeffer also intends to win.
“If we have a lot of speed, we’ll run,” he said. “If we have power, we’ll let guys hit. You want to play to guys’ strengths, but winning, to me, is a skill — and guys need to learn how to win. I think that goes hand in hand with player development.”
Things will be different at Triple-A ballparks this summer. A COVID-modified schedule will employ six-game series to limit travel, and teams will have weekly off days for travel. The Triple-A West chose Wednesday as its off day.
Attendance will be subject to various public health restrictions. The Isotopes are currently anticipating 25% capacity for home games unless Bernalillo County’s “yellow” virus restriction level changes.
SUCHON RETURNING: Play-by-play broadcaster Josh Suchon, who spent seven seasons calling Isotopes games prior to the pandemic, will be back with the club in 2021. Suchon has spent the past few months calling baseball and women’s basketball games for the University of Nevada, but he plans to be back in Albuquerque for the ‘Topes’ home opener on May 6.
Suchon said he will cover home games from Isotopes Park. If or how much he will travel with the team remains to be determined.
“I’m preparing to call road games remotely from the monitor feed,” he said. “I hope circumstances allow me to travel to at least some road games, but we’ll see. I’m definitely looking forward to calling games at Isotopes Park.”