What's in a name? We went to Isotopes Park to try to find out

Mar. 31—What's in a name?

In minor league baseball, does it even matter?

For 21 seasons now, Albuquerque's beloved Triple-A baseball franchise has been the Isotopes, a moniker that has grown into one of the most popular in the country — born from a popular TV show ("The Simpsons"), now finding its way on new popular TV shows ("Breaking Bad," "Better Call Saul").

It's helped make the team's merchandise a top 10 seller in Minor League Baseball every season since its inception in 2003.

But what exactly is an Isotope?

There are some rather unique team mascots and nicknames in minor league baseball — in the Pacific Coast League alone there are Bees, Aviators, Space Cowboys and Chihuahuas. Elsewhere there are Yard Goats, Trash Pandas, Sod Poodles and Jumbo Shrimp.

But few, if any, are as hard to define as an Isotope.

So, as the Isotopes defeated the El Paso Chihuahuas 6-5 on Saturday night in the second of a three-game season-opening home stand, we set out to define an Isotope.

Webster says ...

Let's get the boring answer out of the way. According to the definition in Webster's dictionary:

iso—tope: (noun) any of two or more species of atoms of a chemical element with the same atomic number and nearly identical chemical behavior but with differing atomic mass or mass number and different physical properties.

Well, duh.

A walk around the park ...

Appropriately, just about everyone at Rio Grande Credit Union Field asked by the Journal on Saturday evening "what is an isotope" gave an answer that was in the ballpark of being correct.

"I'm not a nuclear guy, but I think it's loosely tied to something like that," said one Atlanta Braves hoodie-wearing fan.

Ding! We'll take it.

Isotopes catcher Daniel Cope, after impressively hitting on several of the buzzwords in the dictionary definition above, also added a local tie-in.

"It's because New Mexico is known for making the atomic bomb, and an isotope has something to do with that," Cope said.

Ding! We'll take it!

Surely KRQE sports anchor Van Tate, a fixture in the local sports scene longer than the Isotopes themselves, knows the answer?

"You know what? It's in a science book, so don't ask me," Tate said, flashing the huge smile known around Albuquerque accompanied by his hearty chuckle before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Saturday's game.

Buzzz! Sorry Van, your fastball was nice, but your answer struck out.

And, maybe expectedly, longtime team play-by-play announcer Josh Suchon gave an on-brand, Colorado Rockies affiliated company-line answer, though one acceptable for this exercise.

"It's a baseball player," Suchon said. "It's a great baseball player about to go to the Major Leagues — here today, in Denver tomorrow. That's an Isotope."

Ding! We'll take it.

"All I know is it's something from a Simpson's episode," a woman donning a Mariachis shirt said as she stood outside the stadium waiting for the game's CW hoodie giveaway.

Ding! Homer would be proud.

"I would just say it's an atom. Uhh ... an atom," Isotopes pitcher Josh Rogers said.

Buzz! Close, but the official scorer is ruling that an incomplete.

Dylan Storm, Isotopes marketing and promotions manager, tried covering the bases if you will, giving multiple answers.

"According to Orbit, an Isotope is an alien," Storm said. "According to the biophysicists, an isotope is like an imbalanced neutron. Like an atom with one additional neutron that makes it a little too heavy but it's the same element as it used to be. And, according to our fans, it's the most bad-ass baseball team in Albuquerque. That's what an Isotope is."

The history ...

When the new franchise came to Albuquerque following the Dukes bolting after the 2000 season, it needed a new name.

So, they put it to a vote.

With 57% of the vote, the team was dubbed the Isotopes, a name inspired by the 2001 Simpsons episode "Hungry, Hungry, Homer." In that episode, Homer and other baseball fans of the beloved local baseball team, the Springfield Isotopes, threatened to relocate the team to Albuquerque.

Homer's hunger strike in that episode saved fictional Springfield Isotopes from becoming the Albuquerque Isotopes, but in real life, he had no such luck.

The Isotopes are here to stay, whether or not we really know what they are.