Isotopes Officially Part of Dodgertown

It's official. Isotopes Park and the team that will play there for at least the next two years are part of Dodgertown. Isotopes Park, home for the past six seasons for the Florida Marlins' Class AAA affiliate, will see future Dodgers playing there in the spring. A two-year Player Development Contract between the Dodgers and Isotopes was officially celebrated Monday at the ballpark.

The Dodgers, who had a 29-year relationship with Albuquerque, will begin spring training for the first time in 2009 in Glendale, Ariz., which also acquires the Dodgertown moniker, as will other Dodgers affiliates – even in Midland, Mich., where the franchise's low-Class A team, the Great Lakes Loons, will play.

"We are excited to welcome the Dodgers back to Albuquerque," said Isotopes owner and general manager Ken Young. "The Dodgers franchise enjoyed so much success here over the years and they have a very strong fan base throughout New Mexico."

When Young mentioned success, he meant eight Pacific Coast League championships and nearly 3,000 victories: Albuquerque's AA and AAA teams affiliated with the Dodgers in that nearly three-decade stretch were 2,898-2,618.

What will be different in 2009?
Obviously, the destination for the Isotopes will be L.A., not Miami.

The team name won't change, but the "Dodger Blue" will be more evident around the ballpark, and Dodgers items will be sold in the Pro Shop.

History lesson for newcomers
The Dodgers moved their triple-A franchise from Spokane to Albuquerque in time for the 1972 season, when residents voted in favor of changing the team name back to the Dukes – which it remained right through the end of the 2000 season.

That one-time "state-of-the-art" facility was in bad shape as the 2oth century came to a close, and the Dodgers decided to move their franchise out. Portland bought the franchise and the moniker, since purchased by Fred Mateucci, and the Dodgers located their AAA club in Las Vegas.

Albuquerque went without baseball in 2001-02, with a new – some claim renovated -- ballpark being erected at the northeast corner of Avenida Cesar Chavez and University Boulevard. In the meantime, the Florida Marlins decided Albuquerque would be a better location than Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for their triple-A club. In the six seasons, capped by an all-time attendance record of 593,606 fans in the 2008 campaign, as Minor League Baseball surged past the 43-million mark for the first time in its 107-year history, the Isotopes went 429-430 and won one divisional title – in their inaugural season.

Fans noticed the Marlins kept their top prospects at their Class AA affiliate in Zebulon, N.C., and basically saw just one all-star caliber player, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, play here. Count catcher Paul Lo Duca, a former Duke, who arrived late in the 2008 season, trying to show the Marlins he was worth a big-league contract: He was.

"Florida was a great partner for six seasons," Young said. "We are grateful to them for being so good to work with and wish them nothing but success in the future."

The Dodgers always seemed to keep their top prospects at Albuquerque. For example, of the five-year run (1992-96) of National League Rookie of the Year winners, four of them (Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi and Todd Hollandsworth) spent time here.

And don't forget two Minor League Players of the Year, Mike Marshall (1981) and Paul Konerko (1997), plus big-league stars Orel Hershiser, Pedro Guerrero, brothers Ramon and Pedro Martinez, Tom Paciorek and 75 percent of the Dodgers' record-setting infield, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey and Steve Garvey.

Hall of Famers Duke Snider and Tommy Lasorda managed here, and Hall of Famers Don Sutton and Eddie Murray played here.

Who might be here in 2009?
Third baseman/outfielder Terry Tiffee, who tore up ‘Topes pitching when the 51s visited Isotopes Park April 28-May 1, led the PCL in hitting with a .378 average, played for the U.S. Olympic team in the Summer Games and was named to the postseason all-star team.

Left-handed pitcher Eric Stults (7-7) was third in the league in earned-run average (3.82) and whiffed 102 batters in 118 innings.

Second baseman Ivan de Jesus batted .324 at double-A Jacksonville and is a candidate to play at AAA next season. He ended the 2008 season with a 23-game hitting streak and batted .438 with five homers in August. If the name sounds familiar, it's because his dad, with the same name, played for the Dukes from 1974-76.

Other cities get new PCL teams, too
New Orleans will be the new home for the Marlins' AAA team, while the Mets, who had their triple-A affiliate there, are moving it to Buffalo in the International Association. The Washington Nationals are moving into Cashman Field in Las Vegas.

Where have all the Dukes gone?
Thirteen former Albuquerque Dukes were still playing in the big leagues in 2008: Pitcher Ted Lilly and catcher Henry Blanco with the Cubs, pitcher Matt Herges and catcher Adam Melhuse (Rockies), pitcher Pedro Martinez (Mets), shortstop Joey Cora (Red Sox), Paul Konerko (White Sox), pitcher Eric Gagné (Brewers), pitcher Chan Ho Park (Phillies), pitcher Dennys Reyes (Twins), pitcher Rudy Seanez (Phillies), Lo Duca (Marlins) and shortstop Juan Castro (Orioles), who started at that position in the last game played at Yankee Stadium last Sunday. There are a few former Dukes employed as MLB managers, too: Mike Scioscia (Angels), Charlie Manuel (Phillies) and Ron Washington (Rangers).