Apr. 11—ALBUQUERQUE — Go back to Dec. 17, 2019.
On the third floor of Isotopes Stadium’s suites, Warren Schaeffer was standing before the local media in what amounted to his introductory news conference as the new manager of the Albuquerque Isotopes.
At the exact moment he was slipping on his ‘Topes game jersey amid the sound of clicking camera shutters and golf applause from others looking on, word leaked that the University of New Mexico had just hired Danny Gonzales as its new football coach.
Sixteen months later and neither man has coached (or managed) a game in the state of New Mexico. That will change soon enough, as the Isotopes are scheduled to make their 2021 debut May 6 against Sugar Land. The team’s 2020 season was wiped out due the coronavirus pandemic.
If Schaeffer had been hired for a typical 40-hours-a-week gig, he’d probably have at least three weeks of accrued vacation time in his back pocket, all without ever having done a minute of work for which he was hired.
“The time spent has been really good,” Schaeffer said. “I got to spend a lot of time with my family. There was thinking about baseball in there, but a lot of the time it was just trying to be a good dad, a good husband.”
The Schaeffers bought a new house and settled in for the long haul. It wasn’t all down time, though. Schaeffer ran the Colorado Rockies’ alternate training site from July through September during last year’s abbreviated major league season. He has done the same since spring training camps broke two weeks ago.
Minor League Baseball looks entirely different now than it did the day Schaeffer was introduced in Albuquerque. MiLB and Major League Baseball agreed last year to contract the minor leagues by more than 25 percent, dropping the number of affiliates from 162 in 2019 to 120 this year.
“We did a lot of work at Coors Field, and it was a good time aside from the fact that we didn’t get to play any real games,” Schaeffer said. “But we did what we could.”
The Pacific Coast League is no more, replaced by a scaled-down 10-team league known as Triple-A West. The International League is now the 20-team Triple-A East. The drastic changes are meant to put farm clubs closer to their parent teams, to reduce travel and to cut costs for minor league affiliates.
Both Triple-A leagues get Wednesdays off, and the traditional four-game series have been replaced by a six-game series that runs Thursday through Tuesday.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing, travelwise it’s going to be good for the players,” Schaeffer said. “It’s all tailored for the player, which it should be.”
For the moment, the Rockies’ farm hands from Single-A through Triple-A are under Schaeffer’s command in the Denver area. Last year, he ran the alternate training site that was located at Metropolitan State’s on-campus facility just two miles from Coors Field. This year’s location is more isolated, about 25 miles from downtown Denver.
Schaeffer said the Isotopes’ final roster will head to Albuquerque the later this month to get acclimated to its new surroundings.
“The guys are chomping at the bit to play real games,” he said. “All we’re doing is practicing and we’re playing intrasquad games, so at some point let’s play some games.”
Just 36 years old on opening day, Schaeffer was 34 when the Rockies named him the Isotopes’ manager. A former player in the Colorado farm system, he counts stars like Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado during a brief career that ended in 2012 after six seasons.
As much as he’d love to talk about the possibilities of what lies ahead for the Isotopes, the fact is he can’t. The Rockies haven’t settled on who goes where once the season start; the organization will settle its final rosters for Double-A and Triple-A within the next two weeks.
Regardless, Schaeffer is just anxious to settle in at Isotopes Park and fill out a lineup card for the first time in a year and a half.
“I’m just ready to get to Albuquerque,” he said. “I’ve been ready for a long time.”