This being the Albuquerque Isotopes’ 15th season, understandably they are trying to market to that. So we play along with an admittedly subjective list of 15 notable Isotopes moments from over the last … 14 years and change.
1. Manny shows, goes
In July 2009, Albuquerque was the focus of the baseball world. Suspended slugger Manny Ramirez was a ‘Topes farmhand for a few days at the end of his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
A media throng of 100, including reporters from ESPN and other national outlets, descended on Isotopes Park to chronicle Manny’s every move. A then-record crowd of 15,321 showed up for Ramirez’s first game, which moved TV commentator Bob Costas to scold fans for their adoration of Ramirez — and the Isotopes for running promotions (dreadlock wigs) associated with Ramirez’s return.
Ramirez was supposed to play at least parts of three games at Isotopes Park with the home team. But rather than slip in a wet outfield on the third night, he slipped out of the ballpark even while some fans were filing in, leaving to Isotopes general manager John Traub the daunting task of telling that news to 15,083 fans who, in a perverse twist, got the “Manny being Manny” experience.
2. Welcome home
The Isotopes’ affiliation with the then-Florida Marlins from 2003-08 seemed like fish out of water to some, especially fans wistful for three decades of the Dukes -Dodgers partnership.
In September 2008, those fans were made happy: The Dodgers, who had brought players like Mike Marshall, Pedro Martinez, Orel Hershiser and Mike Piazza through here years earlier, were sending their Triple-A team back to Albuquerque.
“While we feel that Albuquerque has really become an Isotopes town,” said Isotopes president Ken Young, “we also know that there are generations of fans who still love the Dodgers.”
Isotopes manager Dean Treanor, an ex-cop and tough as granite, was misty-eyed at the news. His time as Isotopes manager was to end soon.
Treanor yielded to Tim Wallach, the first Isotopes manager of a Dodgers farm team, and Wallach yielded to Lorenzo Bundy. Now, Treanor, Wallach and Bundy are on the Miami Marlins’ major league staff.
3. Gone again
So much for that 2008, “Reunited and It Feels So Good” moment. Following the 2014 season, a group affiliated with the Dodgers purchased purchasing the Triple-A franchise located in Oklahoma City. The next thing you know, the Dodgers affiliate had left town again. This time it was of their own doing, unlike after the 1999 season, when the Triple-A franchise that played in Albuquerque was sold and moved to Portland, Ore. Then, the Dodgers had no choice but to go somewhere. They ended up in Las Vegas, Nev.
By September 2014, the Isotopes had announced a four-year Player Development Contract with the Colorado Rockies that extends through 2018.
4. Getting an earful
On Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in the visitors’ dugout in Salt Lake City, Isotopes’ veteran catcher Miguel Olivo chewed out hot-shot infield prospect Alex Guerrero.
Did we just write chewed out? Try chewed on.
Olivo, in the scuffle, bit off a part of Guerrero’s ear. It led to Olivo’s suspension and release, it sidelined Guerrero for a while, and it embarrassed the Dodgers organization, if not the Isotopes themselves.
The funniest part: In the fallout, a video surfaced of Olivo being interviewed in Spanish that previous spring. The interviewer asked what sport Olivo would like to do if not baseball. Olivo’s response: boxing and to be like Mike Tyson, “but without biting an ear.”
5. Breaking bad (news)
Before Manny Ramirez, Traub had gotten practice on getting out in the middle of the field to tell fans something they didn’t want to hear.
On April 12, 2007, the Isotopes were playing a getaway day game at home against Iowa Cubs. It was the sixth inning in sunny, calm weather.
But elsewhere, it wasn’t, and that was a problem. Bad weather in Denver had forced cancellation of the Isotopes’ connecting commercial flight on the next morning to Omaha, where they played next. The only way Traub found to get the team to Omaha was to hop on a flight in a few hours for Dallas. “I know you’re not happy to hear this,” Traub said by cordless microphone to a crowd of 4,327 as players trudged off the field.
“I’ve never seen nothing like this,” said Isotope Reggie Abercrombie.
6. Rally for the ages
The number of Isotopes rallies from big deficits is countless. But among them all, Sept. 8, 2012 stands out. Tony Gwynn Jr.’s three-run homer capped a nine-run seventh inning, lifting Albuquerque to a dramatic 12-10 win over Omaha in an elimination Pacific Coast League playoff game.
However, the Isotopes lost the decisive Game 5 the next day and still have not won a playoff series.
7. Frozen Fish
In 2004, the parent and World Series champion Florida Marlins went out of their way for the Triple-A affiliated Isotopes — meeting them in the final exhibition game of spring on a cold, wet Sunday at Isotopes Park. A then-record crowd of 14,177 braved wind chills of 34 degrees to see the major leaguers lose 9-1.
Crusty cigar-smoking Marlins manager Jack McKeon certainly didn’t care. But Marlins lefty Darren Oliver apparently did. After Isotope Wilson Valdez stole four bases, a miffed Oliver buzzed a pitch behind Valdez’s head on a later plate appearance.
It’s the only time the existing parent club of the Isotopes has played an exhibition in Albuquerque.
8. The rebirth
On April 11, 2003, a new era in Albuquerque baseball began with a 5-3 loss to Oklahoma that mattered not, as it ended Triple-A ball’s two-year absence here.
This time, it was in a shiny new $25 million Isotopes Park, built on the same footprint as its ancestral Albuquerque Sports Stadium.
A dignitary-splashed crowd of 12,215 turned out. The spectacle included pregame fireworks and a thunder-and-lightning flyover of four F-16 fighter jets.
9. Prior history
On late Thursday, April 7, 2005, we all wondered if Mark Prior was over what had happened on Monday, Oct. 14, 2003.
On a rehab assignment from the parent Chicago Cubs, the right-hander was rocked for five first-inning runs in a 9-7 Albuquerque win over Iowa. It looked like Prior was throwing batting practice in particular to Mark Little, who had three hits off him.
Prior was not quite 18 months removed from the Steve Bartman game, when he took a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning of a game against the Marlins at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were five outs from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945 when Bartman reached for and muffed a foul fly that might have been caught by Moises Alou.
The Marlins scored eight runs in the inning, won that game and won again to get to the World Series, Prior was never the same pitcher he was in 2003, and the Cubs remain cursed to this day. That’s how it happened, right?
10. Stars came out
The Triple-A All-Star Game came to Albuquerque on July 11, 2007, with the International League defeating the host Pacific Coast League 7-5 to cap several days of festivity. Current major league stars Adam Jones of Baltimore and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto both played and went 0-for-3. Albuquerque’s Valentino Pascucci homered for the PCL.
Just as interesting was the home-run derby two days earlier, when the burly Rob Stratton, a 2003 Isotope, came out of retirement and won over Craig Brazell. “This puts a cap on my career,” Stratton said.
11. 2-strike ‘K’
At least baseball has been trying to speed up for the better part of the decade now.
On April 10, 2007, Albuquerque’s Robert Andino was victimized by a new baseball rule saying the batter had to keep one foot in the box unless one of eight exceptions applied. None did, at the time. So the umpire called a third strike on Andino, who had stepped out of the box on an 0-2 count. Treanor and Andino were ejected.
12. Off the Mike
The ending to the minor-league baseball portion of the late Mike Roberts’ broadcasting career came suddenly. On July 9, 2005, Roberts finished a half-inning, left the booth at Isotopes Park, and walked out. He told press box concierge, the late Frank Smith, that he was quitting because he could not work with Bob Socci, lead play-by-play announcer.
Roberts, the iconic voice of the Lobos, died last September at age 83. Socci, meanwhile, is the lead radio voice of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
13. The Lobo-‘Tope(s)
On May 17, 2012, his 25th birthday, Manzano High and New Mexico alumnus Brian Cavazos-Galvez played his first game with the Isotopes. His father, Balvino Galvez, had pitched for the Dukes. The other former Lobo to play for the Isotopes was major league pitcher Scott Strickland (2009).
14. Joc rocks
The tenor of this flashback was to review some of the events that you’d shake your head and say, “only in the minor leagues.” But if one must single out the greatest single-season Isotope, look no further back than Joc Pederson in 2014. The center fielder earned Pacific Coast League MVP honors by hitting .303 with a league-best 33 homers and .435 on-base percentage. With 30 steals, he also became the venerable league’s first 30-30 player in 80 years.
15. And Thor rules
Perhaps the most impressive all-around performance came on May 7, 2015, when then-Las Vegas pitcher Noah Syndergaard put on a show, pitching eight strong innings in an 8-2 victory over Albuquerque. “Thor,” as he has come to be known in New York with the Mets, struck out eight and went 3-for-4 at the plate, including a 420-homer to center field and a double off the center field wall.