Baseball: Isotopes start season at home Thursday vs. Omaha

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By The Staff

The Albuquerque Isotopes officially get the 2009 season started Thursday.

The Triple-A Isotopes will start their first season under the tent of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization at home when they face the Omaha Royals in the first of a four-game set at 6:35 p.m. at Isotopes Park.

Things have been abuzz in Albuquerque since the Isotopes changed their affiliation from the Florida Marlins, the Major League Baseball franchise the Isotopes were associated with from 2003-2008.

Before their departure after the 2000 season to become the Portland Beavers, the Albuquerque Dukes — the forerunners of the Isotopes — were the Triple-A franchise of the Dodgers. The Dukes had a solid following in Albuquerque and were regularly among the top minor league draws year-in and year-out before pulling up stakes.

Several notable MLB players, such as Mike Piazza, Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela and Pedro Guerrero spent time with the Dukes.

Former Duke and former MLB All-Star Tim Wallach was picked earlier this season to manage the Isotopes for the 2009 season. Wallach, who played three years with the Dodgers but had the best years of his playing career with the now-defunct Montreal Expos, will manage at the Triple-A level for the first time this season.

After retiring as a player, Wallach spent some time as a bench coach in the big leagues and mananged lower-level minor league teams.

Albuquerque opens its season with eight games at home, playing four games against the Iowa Cubs before going on the road for 12 games, its longest road trip of the season. On the first road trip of 2009, Albuquerque will go to Omaha and Iowa before finishing up the trip with four games at New Orleans.

Because the Isotopes are switching team affiliations, they will have all new faces on their squad in 2009. Not one of the team’s 27-man roster, which was released Tuesday, played at Albuquerque in 2008.

At least one name should be familiar to most baseball fans, however, that being pitcher Jeff Weaver. Weaver, 32, who played for several years in the Major League, bouncing around several different teams, played for Buffalo and Nashville at the Triple-A level last season.

In all, the Isotopes have 12 players on their roster who spent at least some time at the MLB level in 2008.

Interestingly, Albuquerque is not a young franchise. More than half of its players are over the age of 30, with 38-year-old Tanyon Sturtze, who pitched for the New York Yankees in the MLB postseason earlier this decade, being the senior member of the squad.

The Isotopes have on their roster 14 pitchers and three catchers, but just 10 other position players. Of the position players, one, John-Ford Griffin, will start the season on the disabled list.

The Isotopes, in their final season in the farm system of Florida, welcomed 593,606 fans through the gates, a franchise record.

2009 Dates to Remember

April 9: Opening Day vs. Omaha, 6:35 p.m.

April 13: 50-cent hot dog night (vs. Iowa, 6:35 p.m.)

April 15: Negro Leagues Tribute and Jackie Robinson Night (vs. Iowa, 6:35 p.m.)

May 2: Post-game fireworks (vs. Round Rock, 7:05 p.m.)

May 21: Team Poster Night (vs. Salt Lake City, 6:35 p.m.)

May 23-24: Military Appreciation Weekend and post-game fireworks (vs. Salt Lake City)

June 19: Myron Noodleman (vs. Omaha, 7:05 p.m.)

July 2-3: Post-game fireworks (vs. Memphis, 7:05 p.m.)

July 15: Triple-A All-Star Game at Portland

July 17: Orbit bobblehead night (vs. New Orleans, 7:05 p.m.)

July 29: Duke Retro Night and Albuquerque Hall of Fame induction (vs. Oklahoma City, 7:05 p.m.)

Aug. 27: Manny Ramirez bobblehead night (vs. Memphis, 6:35 p.m.)

Aug. 29-30: Fan Appreciation Nights and post-game fireworks (vs. Memphis)