It may not be "Duff Stadium" -- the mythical venue of the minor league team in the television show, "The Simpsons," but the real-life Isotopes Park is just as entertaining. When minor league baseball returned to Albuquerque in 2003, the team chose a name with national appeal, borrowing the nickname from a 2001 episode of "The Simpsons," in which the owners of the hometown Springfield Isotopes threaten to move their team to Albuquerque.
Isotopes Park opened on the exact same spot that held the Albuquerque Sports Stadium -- home to the Albuquerque Dukes from 1972-2002 -- and has managed to harness a mass appeal similar to its moniker.
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Isotopes Park kept its community in mind by incorporating a local restaurant chain among its vendors at the stadium.
Dion's Pizza is the main attraction, offering slices for $4 as well as its popular submarine sandwiches at $5.75. Among the double-portion slices it makes is the pepperoni and green chile, which is delicious out of the oven but not as good after sitting in the warmer for a few minutes.
Other vendors offer mostly standard ballpark fare -- hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken -- but also keeps the Southwestern theme with green chile cheese fries for $6 and barbecue nachos for $7.50 as well as tacos and burritos. While the nachos and fries are spicy and palatable to the locals, it's too bad the park didn't secure one of the city's Mexican food restaurants to provide more cuisine to which New Mexicans are accustomed. A variety of beers are available for $8 and a chardonnay for $6.75. Soft drinks ($3.75) and water ($3.50) are a bit pricey.
Despite the relative lack of tradition that comes with having an 8-year-old venue, Isotopes Park provides an inviting environment for fans upon entry. It has a backdrop that sets it apart amongst baseball parks. Patrons looking out beyond the stadium can see the Sandia Mountains in the distance (elevation 10,678 feet) and take in a majestic and serene view not easily duplicated.
Beyond the right field fence, families and couples can spread out a cozy blanket at the grassy Creamland Berm under the night sky.
The seats all around the stadium are chairback and the rows have comfortable leg room. The higher elevation in the ballpark not only affects the way the ball carries, it also keeps parents more on the alert for screaming foul balls.
The requisite promotions and games are available. One of the more popular recurring in-game events is the race among a mascot taco, salsa bottle, red chile and green chile.
For nearly 40 years, fans have grown accustomed to gathering at the northeast corner of University and Cesar Chavez boulevards, the cross-streets that are home to the majority of the city's big-time sporting events -- the University of New Mexico Lobos football team plays on the southeast corner at University Stadium, and the basketball team plays on the southwest corner at the nationally renowned "Pit." A skate park also is next door on the east side of Isotopes Park.
Some student housing and a mortuary loom to the north and east, respectively, of the park, and you have to go up the street to Yale Ave. or Central Ave. to find some restaurants or postgame hangouts -- and most of those places are adjacent to the University of New Mexico, drawing a college crowd. Coaches Bar and Grill, about 1.5 miles northwest of the park on Central, is one of the city's popular sports bars.
The Isotopes traditionally rank in the top 10 in the Pacific Coast League in attendance. Part of the reason is due to the Albuquerque community embracing its sports team, and part is due to the lack of diverse offerings for nightlife in town.
While the fans come out in droves, especially for postgame fireworks nights - the Isotopes drew a record 16,059 for the Fourth of July Fireworks in 2011 - they come more to enjoy an evening event in the warm outdoors, rather than as a rabid following of the Isotopes. Most of the fans are casual baseball watchers, in which the game is just a part of the night out.
Being part of the sports venue block, getting to and from the ballpark is virtually no problem. Though few parking spaces are actually available on the Isotopes grounds, ample parking is available across the street at the football stadium, the Pit and UNM's Student Academic Advisement Center.
On big promotion nights, the main route to Isotopes Park, through I-25 South at Cesar Chavez, backs up a bit and requires a few extra minutes to get to the game. That's it. Some locals may think it's a nuisance, but compared to other venues Albuquerque's size, this entry and exit is one of the most convenient anywhere.
The Isotopes have an agreement with the University of New Mexico to charge $5 per car for parking on the football stadium and basketball arena lots, which fans are begrudgingly accepting as the cost of doing business. Fans in Albuquerque aren't used to carpooling, so they still have to learn to coordinate schedules to get more people to the game in fewer cars.
Ticket prices range from $10-$30, but fans can get in for $6 to set out blankets on the grassy Creamland berm beyond right field. Concession and food/beverage prices are not outrageous, but the nightly bill adds up for fans of a community that isn't exactly the richest across the nation. Still, a night out at the park among baseball friends and family is one of the better alternatives in the Duke City.
You can rent out as many as four rows of picnic area beyond the left field wall for parties or gatherings. Beyond center field is a fun zone in which kids can play for $8 per child. The park also has individual benches with individual members of Springfield's favorite family -- Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa (but not Maggie) for photo ops. The center field berm creates excitement on well-hit baseballs during the game.
The stadium itself is a mix of a classic baseball venue with modern amenities. The tie-in to the Simpsons adds flair, right down to the Isotopes moniker. Affectionately known as "the Lab," Isotopes Park isn't going to wow you with a lot of bells and whistles; it just provides an enjoyable product night after night.
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1414 Central Ave SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
801 Yale Boulevard SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
1600 Gibson Blvd SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
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