Isotopes Park – Albuquerque Isotopes
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Homer Simpson’s Favorite Ballpark
It’s been 15 years since Homer Simpson “discovered” plans for the Albuquerque Isotopes, and 13 years since Albuquerque and Isotopes Park made the Triple-A baseball club a reality. In 2016, Homer, the team and the ballpark remain a staple of family and sporting entertainment for the Duke City’s summer calendar of events.
The Isotopes are in their second year as the Triple-A affiliate for the Colorado Rockies. The stadium has 11,124 seats, and additional picnic-style seating is available in the McDonald’s Picnic Pavilion beyond the fence on the third base side (reservations required) or the Creamland Berm, a grassy hill located beyond the fence on the first base side that allows families to bring blankets and watch the game.
Food & Beverage 4
Isotopes Park features most of your traditional ballpark favorites, but when you’re in Albuquerque, you can’t present concession stands that don’t have Mexican food – or at least the capability to top everything with chile! Fortunately, the stadium is well equipped with the spicy topping, both red and green. The service is fast but friendly, but don’t expect a lot of banter. While the concessions housed within the buildings of the stadium’s exterior accept credit cards, some of the mobile concessions based next to the stadium seats do not.
The concession favorite seems to be Dion’s, a local pizza chain that has a large booth on the third base side. You can get single slices of cheese pizza ($4.25), or get pepperoni or sausage ($4.50) or even a pepperoni, sausage and green chile slice ($4.75). They also have salads ($5) and toasted subs ($6.50). The other concessions serve Mexican food, burgers, Philly cheese steaks, chicken strips and several hot dog options for $6.25 up.
The stands sell Coca-Cola products ($4.25) both at the fountain and bottled. Alcoholic beverages include domestic beers (such as Miller Lite or Coors for $7.50) and a premium beer for $8.50-$9.50 (including Blue Moon, Guinness and a Guinness IPA). Overall, the concessions are a bit pricey for the typical Albuquerque family income, but about par for Triple-A minor league parks.
If you’re hungry, try the “Enchilada Dog” (or its alternate name, the “Pauline Dog”). It’s the park’s traditional hot dog topped with New Mexico red chile, ground beef, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, white onion and tri-colored tortilla chips.
Take one step in the ballpark, and you automatically feel relaxed among friends during a warm summer evening. Though walking along the concourse behind home plate can be busy, the mood is light, with people stopping to take pictures with the various Simpson’s characters staged at different parts of the park.
When you enter the park, you notice the pine trees behind the center field berm – the grassy hill that precedes the 400-foot center field fence – and the towering blow-up figure of Orbit, the team’s mascot that overlooks a kids play area that features bounce houses and carousel. The ballpark has an intimate feel, thanks to the proximity of the closest chair backs to the playing field. All seats behind the baseball diamond are a basic chair back type and have cup holders. Isotopes Park has near symmetrical dimensions; with the farthest spots to the fence coming on both the right and left field points where the center field berm begins, 428 feet from home plate. Both left and right field lines are 340 feet, but the right field alley plays at 404 feet while the left field alley is 383 feet.
The newest feature of the park is the “Live at the Lab” summer music series that features local bands performing 25-minute pre-game concerts near the Captain’s Corner on the concourse inside the ballpark. That adds to the usual between-inning entertainment featuring a human burger-building contest, a race among Mexican food mascots and a T-shirt toss through a cannon. Two special promotions that received a lot of attention were the “Holly Holm Night” and the “Better Call Saul Night” (the “Breaking Bad” spinoff set in Albuquerque) that featured star Bob Dunkirk. Both stars were on-hand, and the team held auctions for a limited number of Isotopes jerseys that had the faces of Holm and Odenkirk on the front of the jersey.
All of the seats around the ballpark are good, but the field-level seats behind the home and visiting dugouts make you feel like you’re more a part of the game. On hot days, sitting on the third base side can be warm until the sun settles behind the park. For those on a budget, taking the family to the grassy right field berm is a good choice.
Isotopes Park sits catty-corner from the pre-eminent arena in New Mexico, the University of New Mexico’s Wise Pies Arena, aka “The Pit.” University Stadium also sits across the street, just south of Isotopes Park. As such, you have to travel a bit to get to the nearest restaurants or watering holes. But because the park is located in the heart of the university’s athletic facilities, the area is well lit and has lots of security and traffic that will make patrons feel safe.
Central Avenue just north of the ballpark has several places to eat in the Brick Light District, as does Yale Boulevard to the east and Girard Boulevard to the south. The majority of the dining choices are chain restaurants, sprinkled with a few good local hangouts.
Two established barbecue restaurants are close by: The Quarters, and The Cube. Frontier Restaurant, a long-standing UNM favorite establishment that features traditional Mexican food and burgers, is less than two miles away. There’s also good pizza at Maggio’s and Dion’s (which has a freestanding building about 1.5 miles away.
Two brewpubs that attract a lot of nightlife near Isotopes Park are Marble Brewery and Kelly’s Brew Pub. There are also several other notable pubs in the Nob Hill area on Central, east of the ballpark.
For those out-of-towners coming to Albuquerque for an Isotopes game, be sure to take a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway, which takes you 2.7 miles to the top of the Sandia Mountains.
Isotopes Park is located just minutes from the Albuquerque International Sunport and has several hotel options just south of the park, including the well-respected Sheraton Albuquerque Airport Hotel.
Albuquerque is considered a basketball town with one of the most rabid college basketball fan bases in the country in support of the University of New Mexico Lobos.
That said, the Isotopes have a solid, albeit more subdued, following for its games. The stadium usually is about 65 percent of capacity (fourth in the Pacific Coast League) and can get nearly as many fans during a given promotion as a Lobo basketball game.
Isotopes fans generally don’t get too loud, and the ones that do usually aren’t obnoxious. They’re pretty good at staying in their seats when the game starts, as opposed to constantly wandering the aisles. When the team is contending for a playoff berth or in the playoffs, fans get a little more into the game and resemble a loyal home crowd.
Because Isotopes Park is located in the heart of the city’s major athletic venues, getting in and out of the area is relatively easy, and police are on-hand for typically busy games, such as the Fourth of July game that includes a postgame fireworks show.
Albuquerque currently isn’t a city with a bustling mass transit system, although that may change in the near future, and most people simply take their own cars to Isotopes games. Uber is a popular option for those who plan on consuming alcoholic beverages at the game or at establishments near the venue.
Parking costs $5 per car around the park, with the exception of vehicles with four or more passengers. Those patrons can park for free using the parking lot east of University Stadium, which is across the street and south of Isotopes Park on Avenida Cesar Chavez. Isotopes Park itself includes three lots for handicap parking.
There are three entrances to the park – one each on the first and third base sides and one in the building to the main concourse that takes fans to suite-level seating and the press box. Security will check bags upon arrival.
Getting inside the park is relatively painless, and traffic flow usually is unencumbered. Restrooms are well kept and not overcrowded. The team does a good job with handicap access, whether it’s parking at the facility or seating at the stadium. Those with access to handicap parking are directed to their areas. The staff is attentive to those who request assistance at the ballpark.
Return on Investment 3
The Isotopes traditionally do a good job catering to their fans. The pleasant Albuquerque evenings help with the experience, but the team should be lauded for their customer service.
If there is one criticism, it’s that for those coming to the park a couple of times without the benefit of some kind of discount, the entertainment can get expensive. According to the Albuquerque Journal, ticket prices are in line with other minor league venues in the Pacific Coast League’s Southern Division, ranking the second most expensive at $12 per person, although berm seating is $8 per person. Concession prices are slightly higher, as well.
To their credit, the Isotopes do have multiple promotions to help patrons get into the games at a discounted rate (through the Albuquerque Journal, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, Coca-Cola and the New Mexico Lottery, to name a few), but those fans still have to deal with the higher concession prices.
The $5 parking charge (if you don’t take advantage of the free car-pooling discount) isn’t bad, but paying for parking still is a relatively new concept for Albuquerqueans, and they generally have a negative attitude toward it.
Going to the game also provides a stunning view of the Sandia Mountains in the background to the east. The team also offers the Fun Zone for kids, although that costs extra.
The team offers a special annual promotion for dog owners who can bring their canine family members to the game and sit in the $8 berm section behind the first base side fence.
Isotopes Park is a fabulous venue to take in a ballgame. The views are spectacular, the food is fabulous, the venue is top notch, and the individuals that present the game day experience are the best around. Making a special trip to Isotopes Park is a must for any baseball fan.
Food and Drink Recommendations
Sheraton Albuquerque Airport Hotel
2910 Yale Blvd SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
Courtyard by Marriott Albuquerque Airport
1920 Yale Blvd SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
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