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Isotopes, Rockies strike deal

Fans in Albuquerque may be feeling Dodger blue for a little while yet. But the Isotopes have moved on and converted to purple.

The city’s Triple-A Minor League Baseball franchise Wednesday established a new four-year partnership with the Colorado Rockies, thus ending six years of affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“We look at this as a long-term relationship,” Isotopes general manager John Traub said. “This is the start of a new era.”

The announcement was made on the third-floor club level at Isotopes Park, which was accented with purple and more purple – from balloons and paper decorations suspended from the ceiling to certain shirts worn under coats and ties of Isotopes employees who dressed up for the occasion.

In attendance were Jeff Bridich, the Rockies’ senior director of player development, and Zach Wilson, assistant director of player development. Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd was also at the ballpark earlier in the day but left town before the announcement.

“Our goal,” Bridich said, “is that in some way, shape or form, Albuquerque will bleed Rockies purple.”

Minutes later, he and Traub signed an agreement – a shockingly simple one-page document composed of nine double-spaced lines – establishing the Player Development Contract (PDC) for seasons 2015-18.

It is the first four-year agreement struck by the Isotopes, who partnered with the Florida Marlins from 2003-08 and the Dodgers from 2009 to this recently concluded season, all for two years at a time.

The new era mentioned by Traub began in earnest a few weeks ago, when reports surfaced that the Dodgers intended to purchase the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks from Mandalay Baseball Properties.

That deal was made official Wednesday. Peter Guber, an ownership partner with the Dodgers and a high-ranking executive with Mandalay, is taking over as executive chairman of the RedHawks, who now will become the Dodgers’ Triple-A team.

Isotopes management had been in contact this week, as allowable by baseball rules, with other major league organizations that had not renewed PDCs with their existing affiliates – most prominently the Rockies, Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers.

But the Rockies, 440 miles or so up Interstate 25, made the most sense to the Isotopes.

And the Isotopes made sense to the Rockies, who see Albuquerque as a chance to strengthen their brand regionally. They see Isotopes Park as “likely the best facility in Minor League Baseball,” Wilson said. They know that Albuquerque is relatively close – players can come and go via hour-long flights between the cities. And the mile-high conditions here replicate those in Denver.

The Rockies simply had to make the inexpedient call to leave nearby Colorado Springs. If any Duke City fans feel jilted by the Dodgers, note that the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate had been in Colorado Springs since their major league inception in 1993.

“(The Rockies) made a business decision,” said Tony Ensor, Sky Sox general manager, in an interview with KRDO-TV on Wednesday in Colorado Springs. “We respect that. We’re disappointed in it and a lot of our fans will be. You can’t hide that fact.”

It is a week in which the lesson that baseball is a business is reinforced. And now the GMs of both Triple-A franchises want to stress that it will be business as usual. Colorado Springs is in talks with the Astros and Brewers, Ensor said. Albuquerque will still be the Isotopes, their 2015 schedule is set, and the single-game and season ticket prices will remain the same as in 2014, Traub said.

Albuquerque now has lost the Dodgers twice – including when the Dukes franchise was sold and moved to Portland, Ore., after the 2000 season. That ended a 29-year Triple-A partnership.

“We enjoyed a great relationship with the Albuquerque organization and its fans,” Dodgers CEO and President Stan Kasten said in a statement Wednesday released by the team, “but the opportunity of franchise ownership was one we couldn’t pass up.”

Traub , who grew up in Southern California as a Dodgers fan and worked closely with them for the past six years, said he received gracious emails earlier this week from Kasten and executive Joe Reaves, giving thanks for their work in the past six years.

But relationships in baseball – to those who work in baseball, especially – transcend long-rooted rooting interests.

As they made arrangements for two 2010 preseason major league exhibition games between Colorado and Seattle at Isotopes Park, O’Dowd told Traub that the Rockies would send a catcher to play here who likely would get no higher than Double-A that season. But he was Jordan Pacheco, La Cueva and University of New Mexico alumnus.

“They didn’t have to do that,” said Traub. “But they thought about this kid. They thought about his family.

“That told me a lot about the class of this organization.”

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