It was a call back to another era.
When the scoreboard in left field of the old Albuquerque Sports Stadium showed “Dodgers” vs. “Dukes” on Saturday night, it couldn’t help but hit all those special nostalgic feels for some old-school New Mexico baseball fans.
“I grew up loving the Dukes and that naturally made me a Dodgers fan,” said 63-year-old Ernest Lujan, who said he grew up “all over” New Mexico (he lives in Albuquerque now) and learned all about Dodger players when they were playing in Albuquerque, once the longtime Triple-A affiliate of the Dodgers.
“Just like everyone else, I loved the Dukes as a kid so anytime we can come out and see the old uniforms, it’s pretty cool. I love coming to Isotopes games now, but those team favorites from childhood are hard to shake.”
Of course the “Sports Stadium” is now called Rio Grande Credit Union Field and it’s the Albuquerque Isotopes – a franchise with no affiliation to the previous ownership group of the Dukes – who have occupied that stadium in southeast Albuquerque since 2003.
Saturday night, the home team wore mustard yellow throw-back Dukes jerseys in a 6-4 loss to the Oklahoma City Dodgers in front of an announced Dukes Retro Night crowd of 9,628.
And the uniforms weren’t the only bit of history that intrigued some.
As Lujan noticed, the “Dukes” vs. “Dodgers” scoreboard brought on a special interest to some fans because it married the two teams so many in the area claimed as their own.
But it was just the second time the Dukes ever played the Dodgers.
Almost exactly 40 years ago, on Aug. 6, 1981, the actual Dukes beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 in a game played in Los Angeles which was meant as a warmup for the big-league club as the 1981 MLB strike had just ended and the season was about to start up again.
“From Dodger Stadium, it’s time for Dodger baseball – the Dodgers and the Albuquerque Dukes,” legendary broadcaster Vin Scully opened the television broadcast with, a game that was aired on television back in Albuquerque.
While the Journal’s next-day coverage included an article about how Dodger fans, and many players, took their Albuquerque minor-league brothers lightly, the Dukes that season carried a 31-9 record into that game and are considered to be one of, if not the best, minor league teams ever assembled. Because of the strike at the major league level, minor league games went on and Dukes stars – guys like Mike Marshall and Candy Maldonado – couldn’t be called up to the majors.
Dukes pitchers Brian Holton, Ricky Wright and Alejandro Peña combined the throw a two-hitter in the win.
“I had the best breaking ball I’ve had all year,” Holton told the Journal, probably not a surprise at all to the hundreds of pitchers who have thrown curveballs in Albuquerque through the years and then thrown the same pitch with much more success when on the mound at at near sea level.
REVENGE? So by name, the Dodgers (OKC is now the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers) finally avenged that loss to the “Dukes” on Saturday.
Of course the reality is not only are the “Dukes” not technically connected to that Dukes team of four decades ago, but not a single player in Saturday’s game was yet born when that game was played. The closest? Three and a half years after that game, OKC starting pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx was born.
‘DUKES’ RECORD: Albuquerque is 12-4 all-time in Dukes Retro Night games.
STILL STREAKING: While the Isotopes lost on Saturday night, they are still 22-10 since July 1 and in that span have gone from the worst record in the league with a .313 win percentage (15-33) to where they are now at .468 (37-43) and four games ahead of last-place El Paso.
‘TOPES SUNDAY: Vs. Oklahoma, 6:05 p.m., Isotopes Park, 610 AM/95.9 FM
PROMOTION: Mariachis scarves giveaway
PROBABLES: Dodgers RHP Ryan Pepiot (1-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. Isotopes RHP Jose Mujica (3-0, 2.28)
SATURDAY: The host Dukes had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday night, but the visiting Dodgers held on for a 6-4 victory. (Click here for the box score, here for updated Triple-A West standings.)
Of note, Ryan Vilade, with an 0-for-3 night, saw his career-best, 15-game hitting streak come to an end for Albuquerque. He entered in the fifth inning as a defensive replacement. But teammate Rio Ruiz extended his Triple-A hitting streak to 11 games. L.J. Hatch drove in three of Albuquerque’s four runs.
Starter Frank Duncan (3-1) suffered his first loss, and left the game after taking a comebacker off of his lower body. He pitched four innings.