Albuquerque has had a long and successful history in the world of minor league baseball. The first known professional baseball team in Albuquerque was founded in 1880 by W.T. McCreight who had played professional baseball with the St. Louis Browns. Games were played at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. Over the years the teams in Albuquerque played as the Browns, Dukes, Dons, Cardinals and once again the Dukes in 1942. In 1965 the team became an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and again wore a new name, the Albuquerque Dodgers. The team for a third time became the Dukes in 1972 when Albuquerque joined the AAA Pacific Coast League. The affiliation with the Dodgers lasted until 2000 when the franchise was moved to Portland.
Pacific Coast League baseball returned to Albuquerque in 2003 with a new name, Isotopes, and a newly renovated stadium, Isotopes Park, when the Calgary Cannons relocated to New Mexico. The team name apparently was a choice by fans and originated for an episode of the “Simpsons”. Isotopes Park has a capacity of 13,000, up from 7,500 previously and is one of the finest stadiums in the Pacific Coast League. The old stadium was almost totally demolished with some historic parts maintained. The Isotopes’ mascot is Orbit, a yellow, orange, and red alien.
What goes around comes around. As the baseball world would have it, and rightfully so, in 2009, the Isotopes again entered the season as the AAA affiliate of the Dodgers, renewing the historic relationship that spanned thirty-four years and included eight PCL titles. Many young Dodgers have played in Albuquerque over the years. Burt Hooton, Charlie Hough, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Larry Hisle, Tom Paciorek, and Von Joshua were members of Tommy Lasorda’s 1972 championship team. In the early nineties Mike Piazza, Pedro Martínez, John Wetteland, Raúl Mondesí, Paul Konerko played with the Dukes.
The role of the Isotopes seems to have changed. The roster now seems to be comprised of veteran minor league position players with the young Dodgers starting pitchers coming to the Dodgers from their AA affiliate in Chattanooga. The team, however, stays competitive and enjoys tremendous fan support, ranking third in league attendance and does make a significant contribution to the Dodgers. In 2012, A.J. Ellis, Shawn Tolleson, Stephen Fife, Elian Herrera and Luis Cruz all contributed to the Dodgers cause. Other major league players in waiting from the Isotopes include John Ely, Scott Van Slyke, Tim Federowicz, Josh Wall, Alex Castellanos. The one player I felt might have been taken in the Rule 5 draft, if left unprotected, is Alex Castellanos.
In 2012, the Albuquerque team had another successful year finishing with an 80-64 record, leading the Southern Division. However, with September call ups the team came up short of a championship. The ‘Topes offense was the best in the league while the pitching settled in the middle of the pack.
The ‘Topes did not go unnoticed when awards were handed out. Minor League Baseball and the Topps Company selected Alex Castellanos and Jerry Sands to the Topps Triple-A post-season All-Star Team. Jerry, of course, was traded to the Red Sox. John Ely, was named the Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher of the Year by the Dodgers. The Isotopes received the Pacific Coast League’s nomination for the 2012 Larry MacPhail Award, which goes to the organization that demonstrates the year’s best promotional effort and is voted on by PCL Presidents and General Managers. Other highlights included an epic comeback. Trailing 10-3 in the bottom of the seventh, on September 12, the Isotopes persevered and came away with a 12-10 victory. One other highlight was two grand slams in one game by Jerry Sands.
In 2012 Ely put together the greatest season by a pitcher in Isotopes history, becoming the first man since Donne Wall in 1995 to win the Pacific Coast League’s pitching Triple Crown. John tied for the league lead in wins with 14, a franchise record, while finishing first in the circuit in ERA (3.20) and strikeouts (165). In addition to receiving recognition as a mid-season and post-season PCL All-Star, he became the first Isotope to earn the league’s Pitcher of the Year honor. He also ranked second in the circuit in innings-pitched (168.2), first in WHIP (1.10), and second in average against (.238). This all begs the question, if John Ely can achieve that success in the upper atmosphere in the PCL, how can there be no place for him at the MLB level?
The Isotopes have released their 2013 schedule. For up to date Isotope information, check in with Evan Chavez on his blog “I Bleed Dodger Blue 2“. Evan is a resident of Albuquerque and an Isotope fanatic.