D.J. Peterson has certainly hit his share of big home runs in Albuquerque.
From 2011-2013, he cemented his place as one of the all-time great sluggers in University of New Mexico baseball history, hitting 41 long balls in college, most of those in the Duke City.
Now in his 10th professional season since those college days, Peterson is at it again, back in what he calls his “secondary home.”
Friday night, in what appeared to be headed for an otherwise forgettable night of baseball for the Albuquerque Isotopes – who were trailing 7-0 with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning to the El Paso Chihuahuas – Peterson stepped into the box with the bases loaded.
On a 1-0 pitch, he was looking for a fastball.
El Paso lefty Ray Kerr obliged.
“It was a fastball,” Peterson said. “I was just trying to get a good pitch in the zone, not necessarily trying to hit a homer, just trying to spark our team to get us rolling a little bit. We’ve been a little bit of a slump, so anything I could do – a single up the middle, a double to right-center. It just happened to go out.”
The ball has “just happened to go out” for a lot of Isotopes this season.
Peterson’s Friday night grand slam was his 18th home run of the season (13 on the road, just five in Albuquerque). More notably, it was No. 213 for the Isotopes, breaking the franchise record of 212 set in 2019. (Tim Lopes hit one later in the game, putting the Isotopes at 214 for the season heading into Saturday night’s game.)
The homer was also the Isotopes’ 13th grand slam of the season, tying the 1995 Indianapolis Indians for most ever in a season by a Minor League Baseball team. The MLB record is 14, shared by the 2000 Oakland Athletics and 2006 Cleveland Indians.
Minor League Baseball is playing more games than ever before this year, but the record blast came in the Isotopes’ 131st game with 17 remaining (they will lose two this season due to weather).
That is a home run rate of 1.63 homers per game, topping the 2019 pace of 1.51 per game (212 homers in 140 games).
“It’s been a fun year to watch these guys hit, man,” Peterson said of his Isotopes teammates. “It’s been a lot of grand slams, a lot of homers. It’s been fun.”
Peterson’s 18 home runs this season is tied for the most he’s ever hit for one team in a season. He did hit 29 last year, split between two Independent League teams.
In 2014 with High-A High Desert of the California League, he hit 18 in 65 games. In 2013, he hit 18 in 55 games with the UNM Lobos. His 18th this season came in his 76th game on Friday night.
ON THE OTHER HAND: Of course, as often as the balls have been flying out of the yard off the bats of Isotopes hitters this season, it’s worth noting, there is a reason all that offense hasn’t exactly resulted in a great season overall for Albuquerque’s Triple-A team.
Entering Saturday’s games, Isotopes pitchers had allowed a Pacific Coast League-high 231 home runs this season – a clip of 1.76 per game.
That’s an eyelash away from the franchise worst record set in 2019 when Albuquerque pitchers allowed 252 home runs in a 140-game season (1.80 per game).
Peterson acknowledged there is some sympathy for his teammates on the pitching staff, but, as one might expect, the home run records being set this season aren’t exactly a topic of much conversation in the clubhouse.
“It’s just something that we kind of stay away from as hitters,” Peterson said. “Pitchers have their opinion, we have our opinion. We don’t want to butt heads with our teammates. We’ve all got to put our cleats on and go to war together, but I do feel for the pitchers, definitely. This isn’t a pitcher friendly park.”