BY CAROLYN LaWELL
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico | When the Isotopes moved from Calgary, Alberta, to Albuquerque, a contest was held to name the team. The name Isotopes, which pays homage to the nuclear technology facilities in the state, was one of the potential new names and received the majority of the votes — but not because of the local science.
The inspiration was a classic episode of The Simpsons in which Homer’s beloved Springfield Isotopes almost moved to Albuquerque. Because of the animated ties, owner Ken Young wanted a life-size Homer for Isotopes Park, but more than six years passed before that wish was fulfilled. General manager John Traub tells the story of how he found the statues that greet Isotopes fans while in Los Angeles with his family:
"We envisioned putting Homer and Marge in these passenger seats, and as people were driving on I-40, they’d look and laugh." — John Traub
“I’m looking to the left because we’re looking for a famous hot dog place called Pink’s Hot Dogs. We’re stopped at a light and my wife says, ‘Hey there are Homer and Marge. There’s the Simpson family, they’re sitting on a bench over there.’ I’m going through an intersection, so I can’t really see what she’s talking about. It’s this eclectic place called Nick Metropolis Collectible Furniture. It’s basically like the Sanford and Son place, it’s like a junk yard right in the middle of West L.A.
“I start talking to the guy running the place and he says, ‘Yeah, they’re my eye-catcher. They bring people in, but they’re not for sale.’ The next week the Dodgers are starting the playoffs and they’re playing the Phillies. Ken was coming out for those games, and I was going to stay out there. Nick says, ‘They’re not for sale.’ I say, ‘Nick, everything is for sale. What’s it going to take for us to get this?’ So Ken and I are sitting in the stands watching the Dodgers-Phillies playoff game, it’s the seventh inning of the game and my cell phone rings. It’s Nick and he says, ‘OK.’ So I’m giving him my credit card in the middle of the game.
“Before Thanksgiving, my wife and I flew back to LA. We ended up having to go through a series of three rental cars before we found something large enough to put these characters in. We envisioned putting Homer and Marge in these passenger seats, and as people were driving on I-40, they’d look and laugh, but because they were so big we couldn’t do it. We had to take them apart and lay them down. We ended up getting a Ford Excursion. First we had a van. Then we had a Ford Explorer.
“Now every time I go to L.A., I go to that place.”
The Isotopes continue to add to their collection from Nick Metropolis Collectibles, having purchased Bart and Lisa, a replica of the famous Hollywood sign, a Captain Morgan statue and a carnival-style ticket booth.
Time for minor league trivia. The Isotopes share their ballpark with which university? (Keep reading for the answer.)
The Isotopes silenced the Nashville Sounds in an 8-1 win at home in front of a crowd of 13,065. Right hander Stephen Fife went seven innings, didn’t allow a run and struck out seven. First baseman Jeff Baisley led the Isotopes with a hit in all four at-bats, scoring three times. Both Baisley and rightfielder Scott Van Slyke, who has since been called up by the Dodgers, hit home runs and knocked in two RBI. The eight-run output came a night after the Isotopes pounded the Oklahoma City RedHawks for 24 hits in a 15-5 win.
Before they knocked off the RedHawks and the Sounds, the Isotopes swept the Iowa Cubs with four straight wins. It has become tradition that every time the team sweeps at home, the players, the front office and their families are treated to a steak dinner.
For a night, about 100 people who know little about each other but are linked by baseball and the grind of the season, sit down together for a meal.
“You can’t control player movement and you can’t control wins and losses, but you can control the environment,” Traub says.
As general manager of the team, Traub is not in player development and has little interaction with the players. During home games, he tries to make it down to the field during batting practice to at least say hello or sit in the dugout for a few minutes.
During his 25 years in the industry, he has learned that good clubs — both the team on the field and the team that runs the stadium — are successful when the human element of the game and the business are taken into account.
“The baseball side of what we do, it’s very important,” Traub says. “It’s very different than the business side of what we do. But to have a good relationship with the field manager, with your players to make them feel comfortable here, I just think it’s a very important thing. Nobody really wants to be at Triple-A. If we can make their lives easier, if we can make the time they spend here more comfortable, then I think we’ve done our job.”
All sorts of delectable treats are sold at Isotopes Park. A friend and former Isotopes employee recommended the Bananas Foster. So we stood in line for what felt like 30 minutes (it was much shorter than that), our mouths watering. It was a tease watching the bananas soak and cook in brown sugar and liqueur in front of us. The bananas were drizzled over vanilla ice cream stacked in Isotopes mini helmets. Every bite was worth the wait. Bananas Foster too sweet or heavy for you? Donut Mart, a local donut shop has a stand on the concourse.
Want the answer? The University of New Mexico Lobos have played at Isotopes Park since 2003, but plan to move back to their previous home, Lobo Field, which is under renovation. Isotopes Park is across the street from University Stadium, home to the Lobos football team.
And in random statistical news, the game started three minutes later than scheduled, the first pitch was a ball, the first batter grounded out to the pitcher and Sarah Lockard sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” in 1 minute and 31.3 seconds. We skipped hot dogs again, opting for chicken pot pie, steamed vegetables, salad and chocolate chip cookies. Oh, and those Bananas Fosters. It was the weekend, so why not eat two desserts?
Want to read stories about the other teams on our schedule? Click here and scroll to the calendar.