The Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, the Albuquerque Isotopes, could be seeing a huge change to their field next year, at least according to current ‘Topes outfielder Wynton Bernard.
According to the latest rumors, the iconic ‘Topes Slope could be gone in time for the 2023 season.
Wynton Bernard appeared on the DNVR Rockies podcast recently with hosts Patrick Lyons and Suzie Hunter and inadvertently broke some big news.
The iconic center field hill in Isotopes Park is potentially going to be removed for the 2023 season, changing the look of the park for the Colorado Rockies Triple-A affiliate.
"“It’s [‘Topes Slope] going away next year… that’s on the rumor mill… I talked to the grounds crew [and] well, I think MLB’s taking it away. You know how they are changing everything next year in like a lot of the minor league ballparks?… The field has to be completely safe, so it’s kind of a safety hazard.”"
Bernard went on to describe to Patrick and Suzie what it’s like to play on the hill and, let me tell you, it does not sound fun.
"“There’s been three or four times where I’ve… just ate it… its tough, it’s so steep and a lot of people don’t realize that until you are so concentrated on the ball and you forget how steep it is.”"
Potentially is the key word, however. Isotopes general manager John Traub told Rox Pile that things were still very much in flux for the ‘Topes Slope.
“Nothing is confirmed. MLB has requested that the hill be removed,” Traub said. “We haven’t determined if will come out this offseason or not. It’s certainly a unique feature to our amazing stadium.”
Since 2016, the hill in center field of Isotopes Park has stood alone in baseball. After the removal of Tal’s Hill in Minute Maid Park in Houston, the ‘Topes Slope stands as the last obstruction standing in affiliated ball. The slope is a strange addition to the ballpark that’s created some of the most bizarre catches over the years (Including this awkward yet awesome one from future Colorado Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia).
Safety on the slope is a concern for the players. This article from MILB.com illustrates how players must be wary around it and learn how to play off it. Taking time before games to assess the hill and determine the best way to play the obstruction. Heck, future Rockie Matt Kemp refused to get near it when playing in the park on a rehab assignment for the Dodgers.
The standardization of the minor leagues comes after an effort that contracted 40 teams from MiLB and brought forth new rules to help develop Minor League players for the big show. Those standards are why several parks are finally upgrading their derelict facilities. It appears that these changes may put the iconic ‘Topes slope in the crosshairs as well.
I understand the reasoning for removing a hill. It is an unnecessary injury risk at a level where something going wrong could derail an entire career. You can’t say it’s not fun, though. One thing that makes baseball beautiful is how it is the only (major American) sport where the field completely changes from place to place.
I might not be huge into field dimensions, but things like the Western Metal Supply Co. at Petco Park, the Bridich Barrier at Coors Field, Center Field at the Polo Grounds, and the ‘Topes Slope will never cease to fascinate me. The stories that these ballparks have, the way they can change the game minutely (*cough* Bridich Barrier *cough*) or in a big way is just incredible.
I hope that isn’t lost as baseball becomes more standard. If they go too far, the game would lose some of its charm. Remember to appreciate the little chaotic things about this sport folks, because they might not be around for much longer, including the ‘Topes Slope (possibly).
Author’s Note: Thank you so much to Patrick Lyons for allowing me to get this article out there. This one goes out to you, good friend.