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The Albuquerque Isotopes name may have come from the mind, and pen, of former “Simpsons” writer Ken Levine.
And incorporating Homer Simpson into the actual game day experience of the city’s highly successful Triple-A baseball franchise may have been the longtime vision of team owner Ken Young.
As for those actual statues of the iconic American cartoon family fans have seen and posed with for years around the concourse of Isotopes Park? Well, those are thanks to the eagle eyes of Liz Traub.
And now, “they’re just part of the family here,” said Isotopes vice president, general manager, and Liz’s husband, John Traub.
The “Simpsons,” as always, will be on hand at the ballpark tonight, when the Isotopes face El Paso to begin a nine-game home stand.
“We come to a couple games every year probably, and I think every time we come, one of the first things my daughters want to do is take a new picture with Homer and all of them,” said Robert Hernandez, who during a recent game was drinking a beer watching the Isotopes play. His two daughters (12 and 10) and one of their friends, meanwhile, were about 15 feet away perfecting selfie poses with the Homer Simpson statue located on the concourse level behind home plate.
“(The statues are) pretty cool to have here. It’s definitely not something you’re going to find fit in at any other baseball stadium.”
In 2009, after the end of the Pacific Coast League season, John Traub was in Los Angeles for meetings the Dodgers, then the Isotopes’ Major League Baseball parent organization, were having with minor league affiliates.
While on that trip, the Traub family – John had Liz and children Joe and Sophie along for the ride – set out to find the famous Pink’s Hot Dog Stand in Hollywood.
“We’re driving on La Brea (Avenue in Hollywood) with my kids in the back and my wife, who was familiar with (Young) wanting some sort of Homer statue, says, ‘Oh my gosh. There’s the Simpsons.'”
Pink’s Hot Dog Stand could wait.
This was fate.
Sure enough, after a quick U-turn and a still-hungry family in tow, John Traub found what he didn’t even realize he had been looking for.
There, sitting on a couch outside the entrance to Nick Metropolis Collectible Furniture – “the coolest junk yard of weird, cool and collectible stuff you can imagine,” Traub said – were Homer and Marge.
The statues were among a dozen sets created as promotional material for the 2007 “The Simpsons Movie,” used at various 7-Eleven stores that were changed, for the movie, into Kwik-E-Marts, the Springfield convenience store in the show.
“Immediately, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, man. This is too cool to pass up,'” said John Traub. “I start talking to this manager guy. He said those weren’t for sale. I said, ‘Come on. Everything is for sale.’ He told me I’d have to talk to the owner.”
The talks, obviously, went well. In fact, while on the same trip, during the seventh inning of a Dodgers playoff game vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, Traub closed the deal to purchase the Homer and Marge statues over the phone from Dodger Stadium. (The Bart and Lisa statues came a couple years later, and there is still no Maggie statue in Isotopes Park.)
A few weeks later, John and Liz made a return trip to Los Angeles and drove Homer and Marge back to their new home in Albuquerque. But they weren’t just yet ready for public interaction at the ballpark.
“These things were beat up pretty bad,” John Traub recalled. “Homer’s right arm came off. His torso came apart from his legs. That’s how they were designed. I knew these things needed some bodywork – literally. Marge had a hole in her chest; she was flat-chested with a hole in her chest and a peg sticking out of her lap to mount Maggie on her lap.”
That’s when Patrick Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Auto Services in southwest Albuquerque, stepped in. While he runs a successful local body shop, Reynolds also has become a bit of a go-to guy for the local television and film industries for props and various automobile rental and work. His business was used for several scenes from “Breaking Bad” involving the show’s infamous RV.
Reynolds fixed up both statues – adding to Homer’s right hand a large Isotopes ticket in place of the missing remote control he held as part of the 2007 movie promotion. Reynolds also placed a large tub of popcorn on Marge’s lap in place of the missing Maggie statue, though that has since been replaced by a large soda cup after fans frequently damaged the foam pop corn kernels.
Later, when the Isotopes arranged for purchase of the Bart and Lisa statues, Reynolds again fixed them up for inclusion on benches around the concourse at the stadium.
“They’re a real neat part of what this facility is,” John Traub said. “Ken Young’s vision for all of his ball parks is about family, fun entertainment. And those are a part of the whole package.”
While Young originally envisioned a Homer statue in the cheap seats watching the game, it was more practical to place the statue on the concourse level behind home plate, where all fans could pose for pictures during the game.
Of course Homer is now the only “Simpsons” character not actually facing the field; thus he has never actually seen a single play of any Albuquerque Isotopes game.