Retro Isotopes

This past Saturday, Jim and I went to a minor league baseball game:

Loyal Tigers' Fan

Albuquerque’s Isotopes were playing the New Orleans Zephyrs. Well, sort of…

Since this was “Retro” night, schizophrenia reigned on the field. The sign boards read “Isotopes,” but stenciled into the dirt behind home plate was “Dukes.” To make up for this, the electronic “chat line” on the score board periodically ran a border containing the old Dukes logo. The players wore old-style Dukes uniforms, but the mascot was the Isotopes very odd alien “Orbit.” However, the fight song was one composed for the Dukes.

All extremely confusing but rather fun. The reason for Retro Night is that until 2003 Albuquerque’s team was the Dukes. Some people have never resigned themselves to the change. Why Dukes? Historical reasons, say the die-hards, and these historical roots are why there should never be a change.

Historical? This is the United States. Surely there were never reigning dukes, not even in these originally Spanish-held territories?

Ah, hah! But the city of Albuquerque was named for a Spanish duke, the Duke of Alburquerque (yes, the extra “r” is intentional), in the hope that his patronage would help the city prosper. I honestly don’t know if it did, but there is a marvelous banner featuring his coat of arms in the basement of the Albuquerque Museum, so it wasn’t entirely a wasted effort.

Okay… Why Isotopes?

Well, that’s more peculiar even than naming a team for a long-ago duke. It seems there was an episode of the television show The Simpsons where Albuquerque’s baseball team is incorrectly and humorously referred to as “the Isotopes.” When a name change was in the offing, Isotopes became the most popular choice. Either we have a lot of Simpsons fans here or some folks just thought it was a cute word. Maybe some thought a nod to one of the region’s most well-known industries – atomic research – was due.

For whichever reason, Albuquerque now boasts a sports team named for a throw-away line in a television cartoon. New Mexico is very good at odd names… For example, we have an entire town named for the old-time game show “Truth or Consequences.” Honestly. Look it up.

My husband Jim is a serious baseball fan. He still roots for the Detroit Tigers after living in New Mexico for most of his adult life. Those of you who know anything about the Tigers’ rankings these past several years (they’re doing a bit better this year) know that being a Tigers’ fan is a sign of tenacity. I’ve always thought Jim’s fidelity to his less than stellar team was a good indication of his strength of character.

I, on the other hand, am not a serious baseball fan. I grew up in D.C. when our Nation’s Capitol lacked a baseball team – this despite baseball then being widely viewed as our National Sport. When I went to college in New York, I started to follow baseball, since several of my closest friends were baseball fans and otherwise I couldn’t keep up with the conversation.

I’m not saying I didn’t know the basics before then: hit the ball, run hard, three strikes you’re out, all that. However, the esoterica of RBIs, ERAs, and the rest of the alphabet soup that true baseball fans love to toss around was unintelligible. After I left New York, I didn’t follow baseball much, but enough of what I had learned had stayed with me so that I could go to the Isotopes game and really enjoy myself.

I suppose for a hard-core fan, the game we attended wouldn’t be considered very good. Not one of the many, many pitchers who trooped up to the mound were in control of the ball. The fielding was thankfully a lot stronger. The score would have resembled that of a football game if not for their efforts.

Those of us in the stands weren’t denied opportunities to go after the ball. Foul balls showered down like rain . We began to think that we were in some new version of the outfield – and our seats were just slightly to the right of home plate!

The game started off badly for the Isotopes because their young pitcher seemed to believe his goal was to make it as easy as possible for batters to hit the ball. He gave up two runs in the first inning. Then another. That nervous state of affairs lasted until suddenly the Zephyrs’ pitcher decided his job was to make the Isotopes’ pitcher feel better about himself by giving away hit after hit. The score mounted on the Isotopes’ side. Then the Zephyrs scored.

However, the Isotopes began to establish a very large lead – although not always because of great hitting or even because of hitting at all. There were some fascinating errors, including one that ended up with the catcher for the Zephyrs scrabbling on hands and knees after a ball that was skittering to the rear right of the plate.

We Isotopes fans were complacently anticipating a win, followed by the fireworks that were to end the evening’s entertainment, when things started going terribly wrong. The Zephyrs didn’t play much better, but the Isotopes played much, much worse. By the ninth inning, the score had crept up to eleven to nine. Bases loaded, full count. (That is, two strikes, three balls, and so no room left for fooling around).

The Isotopes pitcher decided that no one should be sleepy for the fireworks, so to wake everyone up, he walked the next batter. The score was now eleven to ten. Bases were still loaded. Once again, the pitcher brought it to full count. We were all standing now. In honor of Retro Night, the chant of “Dukes! Dukes! Dukes!” was thundering across the field. Behind us, someone pathetically said, “But I want the fireworks…”

Maybe all that yelling of “Dukes” actually inspired the pitcher to live up to past standards. Maybe he, too, just wanted to watch the fireworks. For whatever reason, he pitched neatly across the plate. The batter hit into a double play. Out! Out! Cheers and howls of relief.

Then we settled down to the fireworks – really, really good ones – fired off to the ear-blasting accompaniment of the themes from old television shows. (Retro Night, remember?) The grand finale was performed to the stirring notes of the original Star Trek theme. Turns out that music goes really well with explosions… As if after that game we needed to get our heart rates up!

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14 Responses to “Retro Isotopes”

  1. Paul Says:

    But it’s great how like-minded people can have fun despite (or maybe because of) a crazy game like that. That description of baseball reminded me of Bob Newhart’s monologue where he has Abner Doubleday on the phone trying to sell his new game to a gaming company and explaining it. “I see…three strikes…and three balls…no, four balls. Why four balls, Mr. Doubleday?…Nobody’s ever asked you before?…What’s a strike, Mr. Doubleday? If it was above the knees…and below the shoulders…Is this a rib? is this one of the guys in the office??”

  2. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I can relate to your husband. I’m a Charger fan myself (That’s football FYI). Let me tell you, we’ve had to endure some rough times. That’s when you learn who the true fans are.

    Sounds like you had a good night of it. Interesting choice for the fireworks, especially the music. Star Trek? I suppose it can work. Though it sounds like the game might have almost been comical, at least until that last inning.

  3. Alan Robson Says:

    I must confess that, speaking as a non-American, I found this quite baffling. Perhaps I ought to take revenge on you and tell you all about cricket…

    There’s a school of thought that claims that the only reason the British had an Empire was so that they’d have someone else to play cricket with. And it is very noticeable that (with the exception of Canada and some bits of Africa) the ex-Empire has taken to the game with huge enthusiasm. So much so, in fact, that touring English cricket teams are usually soundly trounced.


    -Alan

    • janelindskold Says:

      Maybe we can do a piece on this down the road. About all I know regarding cricket is that both Peter Wimsey and Harry Flashman were good at it.

      Oh! And that Bertie Wooster thought he was good at it!

  4. Alan Kellogg Says:

    Adventure, thy name is minor league baseball. :);;

  5. Tori Says:

    I went to a ball game recently too! Sports and sporting events are very much outside my realm of experience though. Being among the crowd I felt a bit like an alien. I had no idea what was going on (both visually and verbally) and everyone but me seemed to be in sync with this bizarre baseball-induced energy. I imagine if I had been at your game I would have been even more confused!

  6. Morton W. Kahl Says:

    Baseball has really changed since I was a boy. Example: I was a BROOKLYN Dodgers fan. Incidently, the Detroit Tigers were always in contention for the Penant race. God, I feel old!

  7. Morton W. Kahl Says:

    Addition to my previous comment. At my age, 80, I sometimes think slowly. My wife, Marciana Marina Vivado Pizarro Torricos Leon (and so on “ad infinatum) de Kahl (a mouthful) (so much for Jane’s Spanish), does not like baseball. Whenever I would watch a game on TV, she would pointedly leave the room. However, she did take me to a bullfight, in Bolivia, fought from horseback by a quite famous Mexican woman, Conchita Cintron. As Jane’s friend Alan says, “Tastes vary”.

  8. janelindskold Says:

    I’m wondering — other than quidditch — have any SF/F novels focused on a sport that isn’t just one of our current ones?

    I’m always a little off-put when thousands of years in the future characters are playing the same sports, apparently unchanged, from now.

    • raartori Says:

      I can think of multiple instances in visual media where they have unique sports, but not any in novels that don’t star Harry Potter. The visual media ones I’m thinking of are in the TV shows Futurama and Battlestar Galactica and the videogame Final Fantasy X. I’m guessing that’s because it’s easier to show a sport than describe it. Plus, easier to fudge rules that way. I know that all sorts of cheating and nonsense could be going on in a televised Australian Football game and I’d be none the wiser.

    • Peter Says:

      Depends how tight a focus you want (and how you define “sport” – do the various SF/F takes on The Deadliest Game count?). A fair few SF novels have at least mentioned low/Zero-G sports of one sort or another, or had the protagonist play one. Spaceship racing of one form or another is a fairly standard device, but it’s arguably just an extension of foot/chariot/horse/sailboat racing. The question of “How do professional sports/the Olympics deal with the appearance of werewolves/cyborgs/wizards/mutants/aliens” comes up a fair bit (Katharine Kerr’s Polar City Blues and Polar City Nightmare feature a character who lost his promising baseball career when the league discovered he was a telepath).

      The only example I can think of off-hand of an invented sport that rises to quidditch levels of prominence would be bowli ball in Miller & Lee’s Liaden novels; I vaguely recall one of Varley’s Eight Worlds stories being centred around a futuristic sport, but can’t recall any details.

      In fantasy, there’s Captures from Glen Cook’s Dread Empire novels, but it’s not as central as quidditch, and doesn’t have any fantastic elements (it’s a ball game, sort of a precursor to rugby/football (either flavour), with a hint of early polo from the “the ball is a human head” days).

      George Martin’s short “The Last Superbowl” is an interesting take on sports of the future..

    • heteromeles Says:

      Alien sports: There’s John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection which uses a Klingon game as its centerpiece. While I haven’t read The Hunger Games yet, I think it qualifies too. And there’s always Burroughs Chessmen of Mars. This illustrates two common SF memes: live action board games and gladiatorial contests.

      Thinking about it more, the best candidate is Niven et al’s Dream Park trilogy, which inspired LARP.

      If you really want to throw the net wide, there’s Ender’s Game

      • janelindskold Says:

        I appreciate how many of you went out of your way to differentiate between extentions of modern sports (or even not so modern) and “new” ones.

        I’d completely forgotten all the zero-gee ones!

  9. CBI Says:

    Rats. Just got offered free tickets to an Isotopes game for my wife and me. Unfortunately it’s during Bubonicon. Perhaps the panels that evening will be ones I’m OK with skipping. Hope the schedule comes out soon!

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