Javier Melendrez spoke on behalf of his two friends whose giggles kept them from saying much that could be discerned about how much fun they were having on Sunday night at Isotopes Park.
The 9-year-old Albuquerque boy, wearing his Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico jersey, and his two friends were sweating and scarfing down blue(ish) cotton candy as they walked back toward their seats from the right field Fun Zone along with Javier’s parents.
“We came to see the fireworks and watch baseball,” said Javier, though at that particular juncture around the fourth inning, Javier’s mom said the boys hadn’t watched much of the game, yet.
“I love baseball so anytime my mom can take me I want to come.”
The Melendrez family and friends — a group of seven in all — were among Sunday’s announced Independence Day Celebration turnout of 12,593. Despite a seven-run seventh, the Isotopes’ furious late-game rally wasn’t enough in a 14-11 loss to the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.
The fans didn’t seem to mind the outcome.
The Independence Day game for the Isotopes — played each year on either July 3 or July 4, is one of the highest attended games every season for the franchise.
But halfway through the first full, restriction-free season since 2019 (COVID-19 canceled 2020 for all of Minor League Baseball and 2021 was played with mask restrictions in New Mexico for at least half the season) — the Isotopes actually have been enjoying a lot of big nights at the gate. While you may still see some masks around the park now, like anywhere else, general manager John Traub acknowledges this is every bit as “normal” a feel for the club as what it was three years ago.
“Somebody told me last night (Saturday night’s fireworks show game at Isotopes Park), and we have people say this all the time, that they were just so grateful for the fact that they come to the ballpark again and feel normal again,” said Traub.
Sunday’s turnout didn’t approach franchise record numbers — they would need to crack 15,000 just to threaten the top 10 for a single game — but the Isotopes still were leading the Pacific Coast League in average home attendance this season and were sixth in all of MiLB at 7,294 fans per game.
And while they’ve always been recognized as one of the better minor league teams across the country in home attendance, in 20 years of existence, the Isotopes have never before ranked better than third in the Pacific Coast League or better than sixth in all of MiLB.
“If you were to tell me 20 years ago when we started this that we would still be in the top tier of clubs for attendance right now, I’d have signed for that right away,” Traub said. “You look at all these teams, all the new stadiums that have come along, and we’ve proven here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that this is a great baseball community and it will hold its own against anybody in the country, new stadium or not.”
Traub credits his staff for keeping fans engaged and wanting to come back to games — win or lose — through the years with providing a relaxing family atmosphere, keeping up with giveaways (thousands of fans lined up for hours before game time earlier this season for the free “Burque” jersey giveaway), and game night promotions that seem to be more and more immersive for fans. Mariachis night games often have fans singing and dancing on the concourse, and on Saturday fans got to walk onto the field to look at several dozen lowriders parked on the warning track).
And, of course, there are all the firework shows. Sunday’s was one of 15 for the Isotopes this season, and one of many more big nights at the gate so far for the Isotopes.
Top attended games in Isotopes Park history (opponent):
** Manny Ramirez rehabilitation game
‘TOPES MONDAY: At Round Rock
At Round Rock
5:05 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM
PROBABLES: Isotopes RHP Jose Urena (0-1, 7.29) vs. Express TBD
SUNDAY: Sugar Land hit five home runs and fought off a late-game rally for a 14-11 win over the Isotopes in front of an announced Isotopes Park crowd of 12,593. The Isotopes trailed 11-0 before scoring four in the bottom of the fifth and seven more in the seventh, and even bringing the tying run to the plate at one point. The teams split the six-game series and put up video game-like numbers, combining for 102 runs, 138 hits, 58 walks and 25 home runs.
The crowds at Isotopes Park Saturday (10.893) and Sunday were the largest each of those dates in the minors. The “other half” of the minor league teams get their big home date on Monday of course.
NEXT HOME GAME: July 22 vs. Sugar Land, 7:05 p.m.