Grammer: Some sports traditions New Mexicans can claim as all their own

Want to start a heated debate?

Post your pick for the best green chile cheeseburger in the state on social media. Better yet, try putting a publicly funded stadium on the November ballot.

You’ll find plenty of takers in the discussion.

On the other hand, if you really want New Mexicans to be united, ask them how to spell chile. Or how they feel about people who try to suggest some vanilla sunset anywhere else in the world can hold a fire in the sky candle to the ones our state is blessed with on a regular basis.

New Mexicans, and those of the sports fan variety in particular, are an easy bunch to rile up. We’re proud. We’re defensive. We’re passionate.

Luckily for the Albuquerque Isotopes, and their gift shop cash register, they’ve consistently nailed promotions that hit the nail in their ability to properly represent the state – not always an easy task at the Minor League Baseball level where off-the-wall, wacky promotions can sometimes lean closer toward the absurd than the respectable.

Saturday, the team was supposed to take on their once-a-season food-centric persona, the Green Chile Cheeseburgers, before a rainout.

Sunday, it’s the latest incarnation of the wildly popular Los Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico promotion.

It got me wondering what are the most New Mexico True (yeah, I think the Department of Tourism got that one right) sports traditions, promotions, customs, rituals, or whatever you choose to call them that we can absolutely claim as our own.

I’m not talking which team has the best fans or which school is the best. I’m talking about those unique, all-to-their-own customs that a team can claim are unique to them and that fans have embraced.

Los Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico

In 2018, as part of the nationwide Copa de la Diversión promotion that Minor League Baseball said was aimed at trying to “resonate most with participating teams’ local U.S. Hispanic/Latino communities,” the Isotopes created the alter ego: Los Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico.

What it turned into for the Isotopes, aside from the huge sales numbers all over the country for hats and shirts with the Mariachis logo, is a regular party at the Park.

While baseball is still a pastime and carries a relaxing, backyard barbecue feel, a Mariachis Night game often has dancers and music, taking on a much more backyard party feel.

“For us, (the Mariachis Night games) are just something that brings the community together,” Ray Gurule, a junior varsity baseball coach at West Mesa High School, told me at the last Mariachis’ game in early July.

“This is important to us because it represents what a lot of us are about here in Albuquerque and here in New Mexico. … I think they nailed it.”

Player intros in the Pit

“You are now 5,212 feet above sea level. At this elevation you can experience fatigue, or weakness, pins and needles, dizziness, shortness of breath upon exertion, drowsiness and persistent rapid pulse. Welcome to the Pit, a mile high and louder than …”

Since this is the only of the three on my list that involves a team that competes with another team in the state on the same level, I get this won’t sit well with everyone. And it’s not lost on me some of my New Mexico State brothers and sisters have already branded me a traitor.

Nevertheless, I’ve sat through hundreds of pregame introductions and the Lobos’ version is just plain good.

The Magic Minute

New Mexico United may still very much be in its infancy as a sports team, but there’s no doubt the team has secured a place in the hearts of a large number of passionate fans.

They’ve got the Curse supporters group, great “kits” and plenty of support.

But for my money, in terms of unique, cool custom that nobody else can claim as their own, there’s the Magic Minute – the invention of coach Troy Lesesne.

What is it, you ask?

At the 19:12 mark of the first half, all while game play continues on the field, the crowd begins to go wild, scream, wave flags, bang drums and generally lose their minds.

That goes on until the 20:18 mark – when fans can again catch their breath again.

The significance of those times?

New Mexico became a state in 1912 and New Mexico United became a team in 2018.

What’s more New Mexico than a built-in Route 66(-second) party that cuts right through the heart of a game in Albuquerque?

“I’ve had opposing coaches say to me that they actually prepare their team just because it’s so loud during that moment,” said Lesesne. “They try to prepare their team to make sure to be ready for that and make sure that they’re not taken off of any type of strategy or … overwhelmed in that moment.”

Some others

Look, this stuff is subjective. What rises to the level of being a worthy custom, tradition or ritual that is also unique from what everyone else is doing around the country? Who really knows?

But I do know the following items also qualify in my mind as pretty awesome, unique-to-Albuquerque sports customs:

⋄ Anything with the Albuquerque Dukes logo

⋄ Holly Holm’s in-cage/in-ring back flip with the help of coach Mike Winkeljohn after a win

⋄ The handcrafted New Mexico Bowl pottery trophy from artists from the Zia Pueblo

⋄ Seeing the turquoise uniforms of the UNM cross country and track teams in an NCAA National Championship event

⋄ The sound of a ring announcer introducing a fighter before a boxing or MMA match with the phrase, “Fighting out of Albuquerque, New Mexico…”

What are some others? Let us know with an email to sportsspeakup@abqjournal.com.

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