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Baseball: Isotopes open 2010 season on the road

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By The Staff

After a remarkable 2009 season, the Albuquerque Isotopes will hope to keep that momentum going as it heads into the 2010 season.

The Isotopes, the Triple-A franchise of the Los Angeles Dodgers, will open their regular season on the road Thursday at Oklahoma City. They will start their first homestand April 12 when they face New Orleans.

Last season was an eventful one for Albuquerque. Along with winning its first Pacific Coast League Southern Division title since 2003, its first season, Albuquerque rejoined the Los Angeles farm system — in 2003-2008, it was in the Florida Marlins’ system — got a new manager, and got a visit from one of the most controversial Major League Baseball stars.

For the second straight season, the Isotopes will be managed by former Major League All-Star Tim Wallach. Wallach, who was introduced with much fanfare prior to last season – Dodgers’ Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda was on-hand for his introduction – more than lived up to expectations, winning the PCL’s Manager of the Year honor.

Roster-wise, things will look quite a bit different around the Isotopes this season, however, with only five position players having spent time in Albuquerque last season, among those fan-favorite shortstop Chin-lung Hu.

Several of Albuquerque’s players have spent at least some time in the Bigs during their careers, including seven pitchers on its 24-man roster. As is often the case, the Isotopes’ roster is a mix of young talent and former Major Leaguers – the average age of the pitching staff is approximately 27 years, 7 months.

The Isotopes have announced their starting pitcher for their opener. James McDonald, a promising 25-year-old right-hander who spent time both with Albuquerque and the big club in 2009, will get the nod on opening day.

Gone, however, are Mitch Jones, one of the team’s most notable offensive threats, ace pitcher Hector Alvarado and near-automatic closer Scott Strickland. Jones led the team in batting average (.297), home runs (35), RBI (103) and slugging percentage (.651), while Alvarado had the team’s best ERA (3.49), win total (13) and strikeout total (139).

In 2009, Albuquerque broke its season-attendance mark, going over 600,000 fans for the first time in club history.

That attendance mark was buoyed by a two-game appearance in June of Los Angeles Dodger outfielder Manny Ramirez. Ramirez, a member of the 500-home run club, was serving part of his 50-game MLB suspension in Albuquerque for testing positive for performance-enhancing drug masking agents.

Despite the controversy surrounding Ramirez last season, both his appearances at Isotopes Park were packed to the rafters.

The Isotopes finished the 2009 season with a record of 76-63, the second-best mark in the league.

There was plenty of preseason buzz around Isotopes Park as the venue hosted two MLB exhibition games between the Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners. More than 21,000 fans were in attendance for the two games this past weekend.