They were partying like it was 2019 on Tuesday night.
And as thousands of fans were still lining up outside Isotopes Park hoping for the free Orbit fleece blanket giveaway — a well-timed promotion for a home opener that was 57 degrees at opening pitch with chilly 22 mile per hour winds — Lane Mallak was more than happy he and his family got to the yard a little early.
A good half hour before the Albuquerque Isotopes started the home portion of their 2022 season, the 7-year-old was already three bites into a ballpark hot dog with the typical go-to topping for a baseball fan of his age.
“I only like ketchup,” Mallak said. “… and I like coming to baseball.”
And that was the point on Tuesday.
While the Isotopes squandered a seven-run lead and lost 10-9 in 10 innings to the visiting Tacoma Rainiers, baseball’s return to Albuquerque was the headline for most of the announced crowd of 7,004 in attendance.
“It felt different tonight,” said Isotopes second-year manager Warren Schaeffer said. “The fans were loud. It was good to be back in this ballpark. It’s definitely different when you play in Albuquerque — we love playing here and it was good to be back in front of those fans.”
For most, it appeared to be a night without some of the same hesitancy and trepidations of 341 days ago when the 2021 home opener included mask requirements, stadium capacity restrictions and a general sense of uneasiness about what was the first large-capacity event in the state since the start of COVID-19.
“It’s been great tonight,” said Isotopes Vice President and General Manager John Traub. “Last year, we had baseball again, of course, but everyone was a little unsure of it all, right? It was a little different feel. This year seems closer to what it used to be. … And it feels good.”
The beer was cold, the food was hot and the game was entertaining.
While the younger Mallak enjoyed his hot dog, his 10-year-old brother Hayden set his red and blue glove down long enough to scarf down a slice of Dion’s pepperoni pizza.
His grandparents — Colleen McGrath and Charlie Garcia — were still settling in and parents — Hillary and Jeremy Mallak — were talking about trying out the new I-Chee-Waa-Waa pulled pork and chile relleno sandwich that has been getting buzz around Albuquerque the past week.
“It’s exciting to be back out here, for sure,” said Jeremy Mallak, noting they’ve probably been to the home opener every season for the past five years, with the 2020 canceled season being the only exception.
“We love coming out to Isotopes games every year,” said Hillary Mallak. “It’s nice to have baseball back.”
COUNTDOWN: With Tuesday’s announced attendance of 7,004 fans at Isotopes Park, the organization is now 10,167 fans away from welcoming in its 10 millionth fan since its first game in 2003.
HEY MR DJ: Former Lobo D.J. Peterson went 2-for-5 with a home run, 2 RBIs and two runs scored in his first game with the Isotopes.
FAMILIAR FACES: Aside from Peterson, fellow former Lobo Sam Haggerty went 2-for-4 for the Rainiers and former Lobo and La Cueva High graduate Jordan Pacheco had his first game in Albuquerque as the Isotopes new hitting coach.
SHOW ME THE MONEY: In a preseason check presentation, Isotopes team president and owner Ken Young presented to Mayor Tim Keller a novelty check for $30,595,333.75 — the amount the Isotopes have paid the city for use of Isotopes Park since 2003.
“It does feel special tonight,” said Keller. “And that specialness, I think, comes from the fact that we don’t have the anxiety that we had before. So, even though we went to games, it was like, ‘Well, are we wearing masks?’ Or, ‘are we gonna complete this season?’ … And now it’s like people can kind of be themselves again. Come as you are. Be who you are. And it’s okay. You don’t have to worry about all these extra things.
It feels more relaxed. And more like it’s America’s Pastime than it did before before.”
Isotopes Park, 6:35 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM
PROBABLES: Rainiers RHP Asher Wojciechowski (0-1, 4.50) vs. Isotopes LHP Dillon Overton (0-1, 6.65)
TUESDAY: The visiting Tacoma Rainiers rallied from seven runs down to beat the Albuquerque Isotopes 10-9 in 10 innings in front of an announced crowd of 7,004 for the 2022 home opener at Isotopes Park.
Former UNM Lobo D.J. Peterson went 2-for-5 at the plate with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored for Albuquerque. He had a hit in his first at-bat with the Isotopes and a homer in his second at-bat in the fourth inning.
But the Isotopes allowed four runs in the fifth inning and three more in the ninth as Tacoma tied the game and then scored the game-winner in the 10th.