D.J. Peterson on Tuesday joked with friend and fellow former Lobo Jordan Pacheco about who was going to get the louder ovation in the Albuquerque Isotopes’ home opener.
The pair of former UNM stars are both first time Isotopes this season — Peterson as a hard-hitting first baseman trying to make his way to the majors while Pacheco, who hung up the playing cleats and is now beginning his coaching career as the hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate.
“It wasn’t close,” Peterson told the Journal on Wednesday. “He’s the man here. They love him.”
Pacheco is, after all, home again in Albuquerque, where he was a local baseball star at La Cueva High School even before his standout UNM Lobo playing days and his 14-year professional playing career.
While the sample size is extremely small for a 150-game season, it appears the Isotopes hitters are as comfortable at home in Albuquerque as their new hitting coach.
Friday night, the Isotopes won their third game in a row — 5-2 over the visiting Tacoma Rainiers — and had 11 hits, posting their fourth-consecutive game in the home stand with at least 10 hits.
The team’s approach at the plate — something Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer and Pacheco, who have been longtime close friends since their playing days — has been aggressive early and locked in, to say the least, in their four games so far vs. the Rainiers.
On the road last week in six games at Oklahoma City, the Isotopes hit .201 at the plate and just .127 with runners in scoring position. The team went 1-5.
In four home games this week against Tacoma, the Isotopes are hitting .338 (.317 with runners in scoring position) while going 3-1. They’ve had three or more extra-base hits in all four home games, including seven in a 16-hit game on Thursday night and four in Friday’s win.
“Yeah, guys are getting after it, especially early,” said Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer. “I mean it’s been good for us to put up runs and have long good at bats early in the game. We’ve gotten to their pen and it’s been good.”
Chris Forbes, the Colorado Rockies Director of Player Development, said when hiring Pacheco and giving him his first coaching job at the Triple-A level, the mindset was Pacheco would be able to communicate to players about their approach to both hitting specifically, and the game in general, in a way that would benefit their development.
“There’s a lot of trust in Jordan’s ability,” Forbes told the Journal. “He’s a blue collar guy. I knew he would work (hard) because I know what type of player he was. But what I need at the Triple A level is a guy that can connect with players. I need a guy that’s been on the track they’ve been on. The hardest thing about this level is the ‘4-A’ player — getting bounced back and forth (between the Triple-A team and the Big League roster). You have to kind of build them back up after that and he’s the ideal guy for that.
“He was the right guy, and not because he’s from Albuquerque. He’s the right guy to be able to do what we need. I don’t need the loudest voice in the room. I don’t need that Knute Rockne, I need a guy locked in with these kids who knows what they’re going through.”
Added Schaeffer after Fridays’ win, Pacheco is a guy who knows the difference between being a star minor league and getting that big league break isn’t so much about a player’s swing.
“The separator at this level is definitely how you think the game, the approach,” Schaeffer said. “The preparation, that’s what Jordan is fantastic at.”
JACKIE ROBINSON: The Isotopes had several Jackie Robinson Day promotions and events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the former Brooklyn Dodger breaking MLB’s color barrier, including:
• Playing a six-minute video created by Isotopes play-by-play announcer Josh Suchon chronicling the history of black professional baseball players in New Mexico;
• The first 2,000 fans received free Robinson-inspired t-shirts;
• A pregame presentation to the Powdrell family, owners of Mr. Powdrell’s Barbeque, with the team’s new “Jackie Robinson Making A Difference Award” for community leadership;
• Albuquerque based artist Noe Barnett made a beautiful portrait of Robinson with spray paint on a large canvas on the concourse while fans could stand and watch him work;
• Like all MLB teams did, the entire Isotopes roster wore the No. 42 on their Rockies’ purple jerseys in the game.
Vs. Tacoma, Isotopes Park, 6:35 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM
PROMOTION: Mariachis Night/postgame fireworks
PROBABLES: Rainiers RHP Darren McCaughan (0-1, 8.10) vs. Isotopes RHP Ryan Feltner (0-0, 3.60)
FRIDAY: Zach Neal allowed just one hit over five innings and the Isotopes offense again posted an early lead in a 5-2 win over the Tacoma Rainiers, the third consecutive win for the home team.
Albuquerque (4-6) had 11 hits, its fourth-consecutive game in this homestand with 10 or more, led by Wynton Bernard going 2-for-4 with two RBIs and Tim Lopes going 2-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored.
The ‘Topes have scored 17 combined runs in the first three innings of the past three games.
The game ended in just 2 hours, 14 minutes in front of the announced Isotopes Park crowd of 4,895.
BOX SCORE: Albuquerque 5, Tacoma 2