Albuquerque Excited about Dodgers' Return

Editors note: Gary Herron, who wrote for Dodgers Dugout while the Dodgers AAA franchise was the Albuquerque Dukes, has come back on board since Los Angeles moved from Las Vegas. In addition to being a talented writer, Herron was the Dukes official scorer from 1985 through 1999, scoring more that 1,250 PCL games. Welcome back Gary!

They won't be called the Albuquerque Dukes, but Albuquerque fans are having flashbacks to the "good old day" of the last century.

"We are excited to welcome the Dodgers back to Albuquerque," said team owner Ken Young, when it became official that the Dodgers were moving their Class AAA affiliate back to Albuquerque after eight seasons in Las Vegas, in September. "The Dodgers franchise enjoyed so much success here over the years and they have a very strong fan base throughout New Mexico. While we feel that Albuquerque has really become an Isotopes town, we also know that there are generations of fans who still love the Dodgers."

About the only regret fans had was that the moniker "Dukes" wouldn't be back. Old-time Dukes fans, guys who had even enjoyed when the nickname was the Dodgers, were disappointed in that regard.

General manager John Traub, who's been affiliated with the franchise since it moved from Calgary to Albuquerque in time for the 2003 season, assured then there would be hints of Dodger Blue at the team's gorgeous ballpark, which attracted a record 593,606 fans for Isotopes' games in 2008, despite the team's poor season. And Traub said Dodger gear and memorabilia will be available at the pro shop at the ballpark.

"We are thrilled to affiliate with the Isotopes," Dodgers chairman and owner Frank McCourt said at the time. "They are a first-class organization and run one of the finest facilities in Minor League Baseball. We look forward to an excellent relationship and we feel those generations of Dodger fans will be very supportive."

The Dodgers were the MLB affiliate of the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes (1972-2000) as well as the Class AA Albuquerque Dodgers (1963-71). The 29-year relationship between the Dukes and Dodgers produced such Major League talent as Mike Pizza, Pedro Martinez, Orel Hershiser, Pedro Guerrero, Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes, Mike Marshall, Tom Paciorek, among dozens of other standouts.

Fan favorites Mike Marshall, Steve Garvey, Cey, Russell and Paciorek were in town to sign autographs and chat with fans during the All-Star Fiesta in July 2007, when Albuquerque played host to the annual Triple-A All-Star Game. And Lasorda threw out the first ball; he also was the inaugural inductee of the new Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. (Showing the impact still felt, former manager Del Crandall and his 1981 PCL-winning team were among the inductees last summer.)

During their partnership with Los Angeles, Dukes teams won eight Pacific Coast League championships under such well-known managers as Lasorda (1972), Crandall (1980-82), Terry Collins (1987), Kevin Kennedy (1990), and Rick Dempsey (1994). The Albuquerque Dodgers enjoyed similar success, winning Texas League championships under Roy Hartsfield (1965), Duke Snider (1967), and Crandall (1970). As an affiliate of the Dodgers, Albuquerque teams posted nearly 3,000 wins, racking up an overall record of 2,898-2,618 (.525).

New Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy and his staff, as well as the players making up the Dodgers' first AAA team here in the 21st century, will no doubt enjoy the adoration and backing of their fans – and Traub and his staff can surely expect more than 700,000 fans to file through the turnstiles in 2009.

Probably the main drawback for baseball fans during the six seasons the Isotopes were the AAA team for the Florida Marlins was that the Marlin's top prospects were squirreled away at AA Carolina. No Marlin player being rehabbed ever came back to Albuquerque, where fans had loved seeing Dodgers rehab on a regular basis.

Given that, the Marlins were seemingly more receptive to playing their affiliate, which Florida did in 2004. The Dodgers never played their Albuquerque affiliate except for an exhibition game in L.A. during the strike-marred 1981 season – a game the Dukes won, 1-0. The Dodgers appeared in Albuquerque just once, in 1978, when they played Milwaukee in a pre-season contest.

Longtime Albuquerque baseball fan Fred Mateucci, who vividly recalls climbing into a cottonwood tree just beyond the outfield fence, hoping he'd catch a home run ball, at Tingley Field, where the Dukes/Dodgers played before 1969, when the Albuquerque Sports Stadium opened, bought the rights to the Dukes logo and name from Portland a few years ago.

Portland had acquired the beloved conquistador-like logo when it bought the franchise in 2000. But who wanted a Dukes cap in Oregon? Nobody – and Mateucci knew it'd be a gold mine back in Albuquerque.

Fans outside of the Albuquerque area can find replica Dukes items via the Web at www.nmlook.com.

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