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Peanuts, Cracker Jack and Big Bucks

 

The Albuquerque Isotopes return home tonight for the first of eight straight home games, and it figures to be an ideal evening to soak up the setting at Isotopes Park.

The weather’s getting warmer, and the kids are antsy to get out of school and out of the house.

So grab some light jackets, just in case. Bring a baseball glove to snatch foul balls.

And definitely don’t forget your wallet.

The cost of attending an Isotopes game for a typical family of four — over $80 for tickets, food and a program — is significantly more than the average minor league

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e. In fact it’s 20 percent higher than the average Triple-A game, according to figures submitted by the club and Minor League Baseball.

But the ’Topes are hardly apologetic.

General manager John Traub says the experience at Isotopes Park is “among the best in all of Minor League Baseball,” and thus makes it well worth it.

“You look at the quality of the food; you look at the atmosphere inside the stadium; you look at the overall experience — it’s really a top-notch experience for families an

d for people who aren’t even baseball fans,” Traub said. “You get very good quality for what you’re paying for.”

Minor League Baseball recently surveyed the nation’s 160 clubs in the domestic-based minor leagues that charge admission. The average cost for a family of four to attend a 2013 minor league game is $62.52. The average Triple-A game is $70.03.

The MiLB averages are based on two adult tickets, two children’s tickets, four hot dogs, two sodas, two beers, a program or scorecard, and parking.

Based on the MiLB formula, the cost for a family of four heading to Isotopes Park for a Triple-A Pacific Coast League game is $84.50 ($92.50 if purchasing tickets on the day of the game). That family of four should arrive in one vehicle — any car with three or fewer occupants is assessed a $5 parking fee.

And there certainly is opportunity to spend much more.

 

“The price in mind that I think that I’m going to pay (for a game), I’d say, is $100,” Junior Navarro said during a recent visit to Isotopes Park with three daughters — ages 11, 6 and 10 months — and girlfriend Jennifer Sanchez. He said he paid $60 for four tickets (there was no charge for the baby) and figured on $40 for concessions.

“I’d say that’s good for a family. As long as the kids enjoy it, it’s not that bad.”

Too high or just right?

 

According to Steve Densa, executive director of communications for MiLB, ticket prices for use in the survey were for the cheapest fixed seats in each ballpark. Adult tickets (not including discounts) are available for $8 or less in nearly 75 percent of minor league parks, and discounted children’s tickets are offered in 80 percent of them.

The Isotopes’ least expensive fixed-seat adult ticket is $11, if purchased at least one day in advance and bought at the ballpark. Box seats are $13 in advance and $15 on game day, while upper-level club seats are $23 in advance and $25 on game day.

Most Isotopes tickets can be bought online if you’re willing to pay the Ticketmaster surcharge. The $11 ticket previously mentioned then costs $13.75.

The Isotopes also offer discounts for seniors and military and have numerous ticket specials (such as 2-for-1) that can be found on their website, abqisotopes.com.

 

Are the prices too high, just right or a bargain?

It depends on your perspective.

“Ridiculous,” one fan, who didn’t want to be interviewed, said out loud as he walked away from Pecos Grill with two young children. “Two Cokes and two hot dogs for $24? This is crazy.”

But he paid it.

Apparently, so do thousands of others at each of the ’Topes’ 72 home games. And they keep coming back. The Isotopes drew a franchise-record 593,606 paid fans last year, according to club figures, and have finished in the PCL’s top four in attendance every year since their first season, 2003. Meanwhile, some of that money comes back to the public. Because of a deal struck between the city, which owns the ballpark, and the club, the Isotopes have paid the city of Albuquerque around $19 million over their first 10 seasons.

“We don’t eat or drink too much, just a hot dog or so,” Karen Sage said during a recent Isotopes game with a large group. Her family of five included Xavier Sage, 16, a Cibola student, and his brother Aidan, 4.

Alicia Navarro,5, Aviana Navarro, 11, Junior Navarro, Jennifer Sanchez and Tatiana Navarro, 10 months, from left, enjoy the Isotopes game against New Orleans at Isotopes Park on Friday, May 3, 2013.

Alicia Navarro,5, Aviana Navarro, 11, Junior Navarro, Jennifer Sanchez and Tatiana Navarro, 10 months, from left, enjoy the Isotopes game against New Orleans at Isotopes Park on Friday, May 3, 2013.

“But going to a game is a good value. I think these seats we paid for are pretty good for ($15),” Karen Sage said of her vantage point two rows from the concourse and between

home plate and the first base dugout. “For a night out, we can talk with each other. You enjoy the game, but you’re not just watching like you’re at a movie. You get to spend time with each other.”

Plenty for palate

Making a purchase at Isotopes Park certainly isn’t like making one at an outlet mall or fast-food restaurant. But Traub says the ballpark’s prices fall right in line with movie theaters, concerts or other sporting events.

“I always travel around and see what other minor and major league parks are charging, and I want to see what movie theaters are charging, because during the summer months that’s really what our competition is,” Traub said. “I think we’re right around average for our market size.

“And if you go to a movie theater, you’re not going to get the wide variety of food items you get here. And a movie theater isn’t going to have the quality we have.”

 

While the MiLB survey compares apples to apples — actually, hot dogs to hot dogs — it doesn’t take into account the variety of items available to fans at a venue such as Isotopes Park. Traub says the numerous concession stands offer something to please almost any palate.

Among the items: pizza ($4.25 a slice of pepperoni and green chile), ice cream ($5 — $5.75 in a helmet), snow cone ($4), pretzel ($3.75), premium ($8.50) and ultra premium beer ($9), cinnamon glazed nuts ($5 and $10), Crown Royal ($9), margarita ($8.50), nachos ($7.75), grilled pork sandwich ($7.50), bottled water ($3.75) and foot-long kosher frank ($6.75). A soda in a 32-ounce souvenir cup ($6) can be refilled for $2 as many times as you wish all season.

If you buy a club (300-level) ticket, the seats are behind home plate and just below the suites and press box. It also gives you access to the upstairs bar and some food items not available on the concourse.

The alcohol prices are pretty much the same as on the main concourse. There is premium wine available for $9 and house wine for $7 at the club level bar. You can also get a hand-carved sandwich ($10) and bananas foster ($6.50).

 

Jumbo popcorn is $4.

“I just like the atmosphere up here,” Jason Clark said. “It’s a relaxing way to watch the game.”

Local flavor
There are a number of local business on the concourse, as well, and Traub says all the New Mexican food at the park is purchased from Food of New Mexico.Ovations Food Services LP, a national company, runs the concessions and sets the prices. Isotopes managing partner Ken Young is president of Ovations.

“It’s real important to have the local business involved with us and the local flavor,” Traub said.

Credit cards are accepted at the permanent concession areas, but it’s cash only at portable concession stands. The latter typically makes for a long line at the ATM during a game’s early innings.

And once that cash is dispensed, it usually stays in the ballpark.

“This is one of our top things to do,” said Robert, a fan who said he attends four or five games a season with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. “For our daughter, this is one of our bigger things to do. She loves (team mascot) Orbit.”

Robert, who didn’t give his last name, walked away from a concession stand with a pair of hot dogs and a brew.

“It was $16.50,” he said. “It’s a little expensive, but I don’t mind spending it here. It’s a rare occasion for us.”

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