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Ponchos at the 'Plaza' as fans keep party going at Isotopes Park amid bad start for team

Apr. 13—She didn't want to say what school she goes to.

In fact, Samantha ("don't tell him my last name!") felt she may have already said too much by giving a reporter her first name while burying her face in her hands while her dad was doing dad things shortly before the start of Saturday's game at Isotopes Park.

More than one drawn out, two distinct syllable "Daa-aaad!" groans came from the teenage girl as her talented father — Robert Madrid he said, followed by an "Oh my gosh!" from his mortified daughter — twirled in circles to the mariachi music playing around the concourse of Isotopes Park on Saturday evening.

The proud dad, with a smile on his face and beer in his hand, majestically showed off his moves and also how the white tassels on the bottom of his new turquoise, serape-style poncho with a Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico emblem on the front would spread out in the air around him with each ballarina-like spin.

"I can see me wearing this all the time," the dad said while looking at his daughter and leaning heavily into her embarrassment.

The three — mom and daughter each had ponchos still in the plastic packaging and tucked under their arms — were among the announced crowd of 8,042 to see the Sugar Land Space Cowboys beat the Albuquerque Isotopes 18-9 on Saturday. The first 3,000 fans — some of whom began showing up for the poncho giveaway at 10:30 a.m. — received one of the season's most anticipated fan giveaways.

This particular giveaway, paid for by Pepsi (hence the cola company's logo on the back of the poncho), is the first of its kind for the Isotopes, who have been killing the promotions game in recent years with giveaways and specialty theme nights that draw thousands of fans to a baseball stadium housing a team that ended Saturday with a 2-12 record — the worst 14-game record in franchise history.

But for those new to the game, the success of a minor league baseball franchise — and sustained success of the Isotopes, a team that has led the Pacific Coast League in attendance each of the past two seasons despite losing records — has far more to do with nights like Saturday that are about a fan experience far beyond the results on the field.

Sure, everyone would prefer wins, but it just hasn't really ever proven to be a necessity at Isotopes Park.

"Our games always have a great atmosphere but there's something special about the elevated buzz during these Mariachis games," said Isotopes General Manager John Traub. "The players can feel it, the staff can feel it and overall these are amazing nights."

Saturday's Mariachis Night was the first of six times this season (once a month) the Isotopes take on their alter ego Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico and transform the "Lab" into the "Plaza" with the wildly popular Mariachis uniforms, dancers and music around the concourse before and throughout the game and, for Saturday night, anyway, a few thousand poncho-wearing fans.

PETIE/JACKIE: Sunday's Jackie Robinson Celebration game will feature Isotopes players wearing special No. 42 jerseys in honor of the number worn by the iconic former Brooklyn Dodgers trailblazer.

There is also a special Jackie Robinson hat giveaway for the first 1,500 fans through the gates of the 1:35 p.m. game.

Shortly after 1 p.m. down on the field, the Isotopes will honor former Lobo basketball legend Petie Gibson with this year's Jackie Robinson "Making a Difference" Award.

Gibson, the grandson of Baseball Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, played basketball for the Lobos from the 1968-69 season as a sophomore through the 1970-71 season, leading the team and the Western Athletic Conference in assists all three seasons. His three-season, 78-game assist average was 7.2 per game, easily the highest career average in program history.

In addition to his famed on-court career, Gibson made New Mexico his home after earning a degree from UNM in 1971. He taught and coached at the elementary school level for five decades as well as spearheading efforts to take at-risk youth on field trips to UNM and other local sporting events.

Also Sunday, more than 100 submissions or artwork, poems or essays about Robinson will be on display around the concourse — items submitted by area children in kindergarten through 12th grade. Kids who submitted by Friday's deadline received four free tickets to Sunday's game.