Isotopes Park is a pretty place full of amenities and seats that provide excellent views of the field and the Sandia Mountains beyond it.
A legitimate contender for best minor league ballpark, the home of the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate is across the street from the University of New Mexico's football stadium and basketball arena, while the main campus of the state’s largest community college stands behind left field. So the ballpark is in a busy area of athletic and academic activity rather than commercialism.
Notably, Isotopes Park was built on the same site where Albuquerque Sports Stadium, the city’s previous minor league ballpark, stood for a few decades and the Isotopes’ stadium sports one of the best looking facades you'll ever see with multi-colored window paneling accenting earn tone stones.
A great first impression gets better inside, where the views of the ballpark's majestic surroundings are spectacular from its plentiful seating options. Four tiers of berm seating are on the hill in right field and the view from high up there, while somewhat distant, is a vivid one that's reminiscent of being in an IMAX theatre. Spanning within the foul poles, the ballpark's grandstands are impressive in size and function, as seats are generally angled towards home plate if they need be. That includes in the upper deck along the left field line, although that's a windy place to be when the area's notorious gusts pick up.
The privileged part of the park to be in is the four-story structure situated within the baselines. Its 2nd level contains club seats while 30 suites and the press box make up levels 3 & 4. At ground level is the Albuquerque Baseball Hall of Fame. It's in the lobby of the suite entrance, which is referred to as McKernan Hall. A concierge stands guard at its doorway entrance on the main concourse but if you say you just want to see the Hall and its treasure trove of history you will probably be allowed to enter.
The main concourse itself is a destination, as its entire back wall is lined with Albuquerque baseball trivia panels, and it also contains large fiberglass characters from the Simpsons' family, which is fitting because a 2001 baseball-themed episode of the show that stars Homer and Co. is responsible for the team's name, and in turn the ballpark's name.
Isotopes Park also found inspiration from a place that wasn't fictional, as a version of the center field hill in Houston's ballpark also appears in Albuquerque's, where a four-foot tall embankment of grass spans 127 feet in a concave manner. If not for the mountainous backdrop, the hill in fair territory would be the first thing you'd notice upon entering Isotopes Park. It's certainly the signature feature within the park's confines.
Truly a splendid ballpark with a splendid setting, this is one of the few ballparks with little room for improvement, although there is plenty of room for fans thanks to a 13,279 official capacity that officially makes Albuquerque’s ballpark the biggest minor league one to be built in the 21st century.
Nicknamed “The Lab” (because an isotope is a scientific thing), it could be the “Launching Pad” as well based on another big number Isotopes Park is known for: its elevation, which is only about 175 feet shy of being a full mile high.
Home run-friendly by nature, the park is a home run by design and a good job was done at making the place appeal to fans and “fans” alike, with casual crowd spots for kids and groups found in the outfield, where a play area spans the top of the berm in right and four tiers of picnic pavilion seating rise behind the fence in left.
A beautiful ballpark worthy of a heaping of high praise, Isotopes Park is a no doubt about it gem of the game. So go there if you haven't been because you'll really enjoy the venue and its views when you do.
Isotopes Park is easily accessible from nearby I-25. The distance between the ballpark and its I-25 exit is less than a mile.
Specifically found at the corner of Avenida Cesar Chavez and University Boulevard, the ballpark stands between the two most prominent athletic facilities used by the University of New Mexico and the 60-acre campus of Central New Mexico Community College, which looms directly behind left field. The more notable of Isotopes Park's neighbors are across the street, where the UNM Lobos play football at University Stadium and basketball at WisePies Arena, better known as The Pit and as one of the most famous college basketball arenas in the country. The football stadium, which seats about 40,000 people, is the largest athletic venue in the state.
Thanks to the adjacent University venues, parking is plentiful. The directly across-the-street large parking lot for the football stadium is ideally situated for fans attending baseball games at Isotopes Park. While all spaces were complimentary there for a long time, free turned into fee in 2010
and there's now a $5 charge to park. The price is the same to park in the basketball arena's lot, which is a little further away. It's worth mentioning that there's still a way to park for no charge in either lot: vehicles with four or more occupants are allowed to park for free.
And there is limited parking available at the ballpark but it's only for official use, meaning reserved for the likes of media, disabled and suite holders with valid permits. So all parking for the general public happens in the paved lots on University of New Mexico property.
|The in-play hill at Isotopes Park was an aesthetic addition and measures 127' long by 4' tall. Larger than life-size Simpsons statues are on the concourse, which overlooks the field that has a mountain range backdrop.
9 Notable Ballpark Features
1. There's a hill in center field
Although it lacks a cutesy name like Tal’s Hill in Houston, the center field hill in Albuquerque can be just as troublesome for outfielders, who must be aware of the grass-covered incline that stretches 127 feet in length and alters the dimensions of deep center significantly. What makes the Isotopes Park hill unusually unique is that it curves inward, forcing the outfield fence behind it to be concave. Hence the distance to straightaway center (400') is much closer to home plate than each end of the hill, which are 428' away. As for the actual measurements of the hill, it's four feet tall and the incline from wall to warning track is 20 feet.
As for the reasoning behind having such a hill, it was added for purely aesthetic purposes. So the in-need-of-a-name hill was a successful ploy to give the ballpark a signature feature that is talked about in places far away from Albuquerque, where the ballpark's hill doesn't level off at the top and lacks a dirt track at its apex, which is something that the Minute Maid Park hill has.
2. Characters from The Simpsons are on the concourse
A visible tie-in to the team name can be found on benches in the covered portion of the roomy concourse, where oversized fiberglass statues of family members from The Simpsons take up residence. Homer and Marge were installed first -- they were purchased from LA's quirky Nick Metropolis Collectible Furniture and debuted in 2010. Bart and Lisa, as kids do, came along later (in 2011), again procured from the same source.
The statues now seen at Isotopes Park were originally promotional pieces made for “The Simpsons Movie” that were used at 7-Eleven convenience stores. The movie came out in the summer of 2007, which was 6+ years after the March 4, 2001 episode of the TV show aired that give birth to the name Albuquerque Isotopes (Homer went on a hunger strike to keep the local team, the Springfield Isotopes, from moving to Albuquerque).
And as fans of the show know the Simpsons are a family of five. But only a dozen sets of the statues were made and, alas, one for the baby, Maggie, has never been found.
3. A very old concrete baseball is outside of Isotopes Park
A big baseball, fully made of concrete, sits on the wide walkway at the street corner, where it predates both stadiums at the site. A plaque on its pedestal reads: "This ball was located at Tingley Field from 1937 - 1968. It was moved to this location in 1969 when the original Albuquerque Sports Stadium was built." There's nothing fancy to the historic ball; just red seams are painted on its otherwise white surface area. Its longevity is what's impressive about the baseball, which is displayed in front of the ballpark's marquee sign at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and University. And the information on the ball's marker is a little misleading, as the ball actually dates to 1962, when it was constructed to stand outside Tingley Field, which was Albuquerque's minor league ballpark from 1937-1968.
4. Albuquerque baseball trivia is posted throughout the concourse
A stroll on the main concourse can be educational, baseball-wise, thanks to a series of backlit "Albuquerque Baseball Trivia" panels that are upon the walls. Although there is some pre-Isotopes history, the trivial facts mainly cover current team and ballpark topics. Here's a word-for-word example from one panel: "In 2007, Albuquerque became the first city to host two Triple-A All-Star Games (1993-2007). Isotopes Park served as the site for the 2007 Triple-A All-Star Fiesta which included a two-day Fan Fest, a Homerun Derby, and the game itself. Throughout the highly successful five-day event, over 42,000 fans took part in the fun."
A clever and perfectly placed concept, the tidbits of trivia on the concourse idea is not unique. It, in fact, is a copy of the same style of displays done in Norfolk's Harbor Park, where just like it is at Isotopes Park each backlit trivia panel is sponsored, thus giving the advertiser a very captive audience. The connection between the two ballparks is that their teams are run by the same person, as Ken Young is the owner and president of both the Isotopes and Norfolk Tides, whom he has presided over since 1993.
5. An Albuquerque Baseball Hall of Fame is housed here
Isotopes Park is home to the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame and if you really like to read up on local baseball history it's a can't-miss place. Unfortunately, it's in a can miss site. That would be inside of McKernan Hall, which doubles as home to the Hall and the exclusive entry lobby for club level and suite patrons. So it's not designed to be a general public access area and because of that a stadium employee stands guard at the double-door entrance, which is across the concourse from the Homer Simpson statue. But if he/she will allow you to step inside (just ask), immediately on your right you will see all the plaques/pictures of the people inducted into the Albuquerque Baseball Hall of Fame, which honors those who have made a significant impact while playing, coaching, covering or contributing to professional baseball in the city, regardless of era. Started in 2007, the first inductee was Tommy Lasorda, who managed the 1972 Albuquerque Dukes to the Pacific Coast League championship in the city's first season as a Triple-A town. Other names are not so well known, as excellence in Albuquerque is the main qualifier (hence Brian Traxler is an inductee).
More history is found within the room, either framed on the wall or seen in a display case, where trophies, old programs, photos and newspaper articles vie for a visitor's attention, with replicas of the annual rent & revenue sharing checks the team gives to the city the most unusual display of the varied memorabilia in McKernan Hall, which is named for Pat McKernan, the general manager of the Albuquerque Dukes during their final 21 years (1979-2000).
6. One of minors' biggest berms is in right field
With an official capacity of 1,800, the lawn seating area at Isotopes Park is one of the biggest in all of minor league baseball. It's vertical in expanse, with four distinct tiers enabling a lot of people to be on the right field-only berm. Partitions separating levels of the grass seating are only a few cinder blocks high and the ledges of those low-lying retaining walls provide plenty of space for those who want to sit on something instead of grass.
Additionally, the top of the berm is a popular spot for tots and older children alike, as a "fun zone" spans it, offering up diversions such as a merry-go-round, basketball hoop, playground, and the "Topes Tower" carnival-style ride, which takes up to seven young thrill-seekers on an age-appropriate gravity-drop trip. The area is mostly pay-to-play.
7. There are two levels of always sold out suites
Thirty suites are spread out over two levels here. The decision to stack the suites in a pair of levels enabled them to all be within the infield baselines. Suites are in the third and fourth level of the four-story structure behind home plate. Each has a capacity of 18 and includes an outdoor balcony with 12 stadium seats. All 30 suites have been leased since the ballpark opened in 2003, when the asking price was $27,500 per year with a three-year commitment required. By the ballpark's 10th year the waiting list to rent a suite was 130 companies long, according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal article published in June 2013 that detailed the success of Isotopes Park and further noted that "the $28,000-a-year suites are sold out until 2023."
A fully-stocked bar and high-end fare concession stand are on the lower suite (3rd) level and they can be used by all suite and club seat holders. The second story of the grandstand contains all of the club seats, which are not sold out years in advance and thus can be purchased by any fan. Club level tickets are typically just $10 more than the box seats that are found on the concourse level below them.
8. The backdrop is a beauty
The Sandia Mountains are on the center and right field horizon. Peaking at 10,678 feet, the Sandias are visible throughout the grandstands but the higher up one sits the more majestic the backdrop, which is an extra perk for those sitting in the club and suite levels since they overlook the mountain range quite nicely from their elevated environs.
9. Some art at the park is for sale
Artwork from Bill Arms, a New Mexico-based sculptor, has had a dwindling presence on ballpark grounds since 2005, when 10 of his painted steel silhouettes of baseball players in motion were placed in and outside of the park. Arms' sculptures are life-sized and three-dimensional, with the players' motion created by using multiple silhouettes in different stages of action, and they are for sale, which technically makes Isotopes Park a large open-air gallery. Arms grew up in Santa Fe and lived in Taos when his pieces made their debut in Albuquerque, where when one sells part of the proceeds are donated to the ALS Association of New Mexico.
Besides the for sale silhouettes (which reportedly cost in the thousands) more typical art can be found elsewhere, most visibly on a protruding part of the concourse along the first baseline, where statues of kids playing baseball can be viewed.