As you probably know by now, I live in Albuquerque, home of the Dodgers' AAA affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes.
The Albuquerque Isotopes played their final home game Sunday night. It was also, obviously, the final home game of the season that I attended.
A couple of weeks ago, someone here asked me why I went to minor league games (and not in a mean way, just genuinely curious. At least that's how I took it). The games don't really matter, no matter how many PCL Championships Albuquerque has won*, no one cares about those banners. Hell, I'm not even sure if you get banners for winning the PCL.
* None as the Isotopes, but 8 as the still-beloved and dearly departed Dukes.
So why did I go to so many games?
Brandon can tell you that the stadium is pretty amazing for a minor league park. I can't imagine any minor league park, or major league park for that matter, has a view quite like the Sandia Mountains rising in the distance. It is clean, the staff is friendly and always on top of things. The lines are rarely long at the concessions. You can get your food or beer and get back to your seat between innings and only miss a batter or two.
Oh and the price helps.
I'm not exactly sure how many games I attended but it was somewhere near a dozen. And in total, the tickets probably cost about the same as tickets to two games at Coors Field.
A night at the park will set you back about the same as a night out at the movies. I never spent more than $14 on tickets. You can get a 24 oz. Isotopes-branded microbrew beer (either the "Slammin' Amber" or "Triple A Blonde") for $6.75 if you go to the right concession stand.
The friendly atmosphere at the stadium helps and the famous Green Chile Race is always fun to watch and cheer for green chile (screw you, red chile!).
Probably the best thing, for me at least, is getting to see prospects. I got to see Dee Gordon steal a number of bases,** makes some incredible plays in the field and overall just show that he is FAST. If you haven't seen him in person, he is cartoon-fast.
** Including the photo above, my favorite photo I've ever taken. If I knew how to add a caption, it would say, "Dee Gordon is so fast sometimes he can literally fly).
I've seen Jerry Sands hit a number of home runs, including a grand slam that had just about everyone in the stadium up on their feet and cheering. There are also the second-tier guys that you cheer for but know they will maybe be a bench piece or only get a cup of coffee -- if that -- in the majors. Guys like Trent Oeltjen and John Lindsey.
On the downside, I did see Eugenio Velez play more than a few times. I mean, actually play, not just strikeout as a pinch hitter and go meekly back to the dug out.
Oh, and the home runs. Everybody loves the long ball. Some of the home runs look like they're going to reach the Sandias in the distance. I remember seeing Trayvon Robinson** blasting a pair of home runs well over the fence in the deepest part of the park. And Robinson nearly cleared the scoreboard on one home run that must have been near 500 feet.
Most people, however, are just there for a night out. A date night, a night away from the kids. Just a night out of the house and in the warm summer air.
To entertain those fans, you get to see your share of promotions. Like Rockin' Ray and his Amazing Skyy Dogs!
The fans at times seem to have more fun doing the wave*** and clapping along to the prerecorded noise makers than paying attention to the game. But that is a measure of how much the Isotopes are just a part of life in Albuquerque. Like I said, it is an alternative to going to the movies, or playing miniature golf or other things that people do before going out to bars.
**** I hate doing the wave. And yet if you get a few beers in me I'll start doing the wave without even thinking. Damn beer.
When you go, there is usually a good sized crowd for the level of play. The Isotopes announced on Twitter that they averaged 8,100 fans per game. This is impressive since the Isotopes didn't get a few guaranteed sellouts like they did a couple years back due to Manny Ramirez's rehab tour extravaganza (photos).
It seems like they don't juice the attendance numbers either. I've showed up to games where it was near a sellout (like on Sunday) and midweek games where the stadium was more than half-empty and have never seen an attendance figure that seemed completely wrong.
And, of course, its baseball. What says summer more than going to a game at ballpark as the sun is setting, having a beer and a hot dog and hearing the crack of the bat?
I have to wait until next year to see that and see the next wave of promising prospects, journeyman minor leaguers and the other assorted kids and castoffs play baseball. I can't wait.