Coach: Team needs to feel at home
Day baseball is back at the University of New Mexico, for the rest of the season at least.
UNM has elected to play the remainder of its home schedule at its Lobo Field instead of Isotopes Park, including today’s opener of a three-game series against San Diego State. First pitch is set for 2:05 p.m. instead of the original 6 p.m.
The reason for day games is clear: Lobo Field’s ongoing renovation project does not yet include lights. (They’re likely to be installed by next season.)
San Diego State at UNM, Lobo Field, 2 p.m. today; 2 p.m. Friday; 1 p.m. Saturday
As to why the Lobos chose to leave Isotopes Park at midseason, coach Ray Birmingham said it comes down to feeling at home.
“This is where we take infield, take batting practice, where the kids come every day,” Birmingham said during a Wednesday media conference at Lobo Field. “Now it’s where we play. We need a real home.”
The Lobos have played nearly all of their home games at Isotopes Park in recent seasons, including the first 12 this year. But the team has had limited access to the park beyond actual games. UNM and its opponents typically take pregame infield and batting practice at Lobo Field before trekking to Isotopes Park.
The Isotopes organization accommodated UNM by delaying a planned turf replacement for two years. But Isotopes Park did have new grass installed this year, requiring more use restrictions.
“(The Isotopes) have to protect the field for Dodger baseball,” Birmingham said, referring to the Isotopes’ major league parent club. “I get it. This is just the first time we’ve had a legitimate option of playing at Lobo Field. We decided to take it.”
UNM recently received a full occupancy permit for Lobo Field, but the decision to move this season’s games was prompted when Saturday’s scheduled contest against Nevada was postponed because of high winds. The three-game Mountain West Conference series was the lone meeting between the two teams, so a Sunday doubleheader represented the only opportunity to make up the postponed game.
“We didn’t have approval from the Isotopes,” Birmingham said, “so it just made sense to play at Lobo Field. Things kind of went from there.”
Birmingham said the Mountain West approved the venue change Tuesday, as did coaches of the MWC teams still scheduled to visit Albuquerque this season.
From a baseball perspective, the move is a good-news, bad-news scenario for the Lobos. On the plus side, players are more familiar with the artificial surface and pitchers will benefit from Lobo Field’s deeper power alleys (410 feet).
“It will help our pitching and defense,” senior catcher Mitch Garver said. “For hitting it’s about the same.”
But Garver conceded players will miss Isotopes Park.
“It’s a great place to play,” he said, “especially in May when the weather gets nice and a lot of fans show up.”
Lobo Field currently seats roughly 1,000 fans, though additional grandstands are planned along with press box improvements and construction of an on-site locker room. The Lobos currently occupy a former basketball locker room at the Pit.
UNM hopes to play occasional marquee games at Isotopes Park in future seasons, Birmingham said.
SHOWDOWN SERIES: UNM (11-12, 4-2 MWC) and San Diego State (12-12, 4-2) are tied for first place in league play. Pitching and defense are the Aztecs’ strengths as each of the scheduled series starters carries an ERA of 3.28 or better. Today’s starter, Michael Cederoth, sports a 2.08 ERA and has more strikeouts (39) than hits allowed.
The Lobos lead the MWC in team batting average (.312) and runs scored (173). D.J. Peterson (.392) and Garver (.389) rank first and second in batting average. Peterson leads the nation in total bases with 85 and ranks second with 11 home runs.
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal