Following MLB request, Albuquerque Isotopes remove center field hill

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Whether you go to Isotopes games for the food, Orbit or the atmosphere – one thing everyone gets a kick out of is watching visiting teams stumble and struggle to play on the steep hill at center field.

But after 20 years, team officials say it is time to say goodbye. More than 8,600 fans attended the last game of the season Wednesday night, and General Manager John Traub said hundreds stayed to bid a final farewell to the popular elevated section of grass lining the back fence.

“After the game last night, we let the fans on the field,” he said. “I expected maybe 20 or 30. We probably had 400 or 500 fans come down onto the field. After the game, they climbed up on the hill, took pictures. The team even came out and took a little impromptu team picture.”

Then, early Thursday morning, crews started digging in.

“It is sad,” Traub said as an excavator lifted the earth behind him. “It’s kind of bittersweet.”

It was an especially bittersweet moment for the man behind the machine, Korry Tilbury, the general superintendent for Mountain West Golfscapes.

“We were here 20 years ago and built this complex, the field and the hill, and today we’re ripping it out with a new look for next year,” he said. “It makes me feel good because we have a new look for next year. It makes me feel bad because we’re getting rid of history.”

“It’s been 20 years – we’ve had 19 seasons of baseball played on this field with a really quirky aspect,” Traub added.

He said the decision came down from Major League Baseball.

“They’ve got such a renewed emphasis on player safety, player wellness,” he said. “Having a hill out in the middle of the baseball field isn’t necessarily natural, and since the Houston Astros got rid of theirs a few years back, they said it was time for us to get rid of ours.”

As the team moves into a new era, Traub said the entire field is getting a facelift. Crews are completely replacing the turf and some utilities, among other things. He hopes the new grass will be down by mid-November.

“I’m excited to see what this is going to look like,” he said. “I haven’t really let myself imagine what this park is going to look like without the hill. It’s going to be a different look.”

But Traub promised even the new and improved field will still have some “funky balances.”

“I think it’ll be fun to the fans still no matter what,” he said.

The Isotopes first home game of the 2023 season is April 4. That is when fans will be able to check out the new look.