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‘Topes get new division rivals

When the Albuquerque Isotopes close the 2013 home season tonight against Round Rock, they also close out their division rivalry with the Express.

Next year, the ‘Topes head west, stay south and move to the Pacific.

It might sound a tad confusing, but it’s a move that makes a whole bunch of sense for the ‘Topes – who beat Round Rock 2-1 in 11 innings at home Wednesday night – and the rest of the league after the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate moves from Tucson to El Paso.

The new El Paso club, which has not yet announced a moniker, will be in Albuquerque’s division with Salt Lake and Las Vegas. The four teams make up the Pacific Conference Southern Division. And it’s going to make traveling a whole lot easier for the ‘Topes, who are currently in the American Conference Southern Division, along with Round Rock, New Orleans and Oklahoma City.

Conference rivals play 16 games against each other each season in the 16-team league, eight at home and eight on the road.

Flying from Albuquerque to Round Rock, Texas, Oklahoma City and New Orleans involves at least two airports.

As does Omaha, Neb., Memphis, Tenn., Nashville, Tenn. and Des Moines, Iowa – which are all in the American Conference Northern Division. The Isotopes travel to each of those cities twice each season, as well.

“Everywhere in our conference, the players have got to fly through somewhere – usually Denver or Dallas,” Albuquerque general manager John Traub says. “That has an impact on the guys. When you fly east (to the Central time zone), you obviously lose an hour. Now we’re going to go north and west, and a lot of times we gain an hour.

“The league policy is still to take the first available flight out. However, you look at teams in our division and we have direct flights to Salt Lake and Las Vegas and a four-hour bus ride to El Paso. Trips are going to be shorter and more convenient from the players’ aspect and for the organization.”

Albuquerque baseball fans will also get to see more future rival opponents of the Los Angeles Dodgers – the ‘Topes parent club – with El Paso, Reno (Diamondbacks) and Fresno (Giants) all visiting Isotopes Park for eight games each season.

Still, while those teams have heated rivalries in the big leagues, Traub says not to expect that to carry over at this level.

“I’m sure baseball fans interested in the Dodgers-Giants rivalry will get to see those players a couple times a year,” Traub says. “As far as a rivalry, I don’t think that translates at the Triple-A level. But it will fun to see teams they don’t see very often.”

Teams face conference rivals 112 games but play teams from the other conference in just one four-game series each season.

Round Rock will visit Albuquerque next season, along with New Orleans, Nashville and Memphis (American Conference Southern). Albuquerque will only play Colorado Springs, Iowa, Oklahoma City and Omaha in one four-game road series.

Interconference foes alternate sites each year.

Traub says he hopes to have the schedule out within a week.