It appears the lure of a newer ballpark at a lower elevation prompted the Colorado Rockies organization to sever its longtime affiliation with Triple-A Colorado Springs on Wednesday.
Albuquerque, at an elevation of 5,312 feet, is comparable to Coors Field's roughly 5,280 feet. Statistics suggest moving down 1,219 feet from Colorado Springs' Security Service Field could help the pitchers.
"From a development perspective, we are excited that our players will train and play in a first-class facility that is managed by a group of first-class people who are committed to providing a great experience for our players," Rockies senior director of player development Jeff Bridich said.
Security Service Field was built in 1988 for $3.7 million. Isotopes Park cost $25 million in 2003. The Sky Sox have pumped an estimated $13 million into renovations.
"They do have a great facility," Sky Sox general manager and president Tony Ensor said. "But we have invested a lot of time and treasure into Security Service Field. The Rockies have never complained (to the Sky Sox) about our facility or our organization."
Members of the Dodgers ownership group bought Triple-A Oklahoma City recently, which prompted them to move their MLB affiliation there; opening up Albuquerque. The Rockies signed a four-year affiliation agreement with the Isotopes on Wednesday, ending a relationship dating to 1993 with the Sky Sox.
Fan reactions on Facebook suggested the failure to entice the Sky Sox to move downtown for a new ballpark as part of the $251 million City for Champions project was a reason the Rockies bolted.
The Sky Sox looked into it, but a strong negative reaction from fans prompted them to back off, Ensor said.
"This had nothing to do with our facility or downtown," he said. "We never received a proposal."
Pitching has long been the Rockies' greatest weakness; the organization has not drafted or developed a pitcher with more than 72 victories in a Colorado uniform.
The franchise is flirting with a 100-loss season after losing 88 in 2013 and 98 in 2012.
An argument could be made that pitching at Security Service Field - at 6,531 feet the highest professional ballpark in North America - hurts development, but a strong rebuttal would be that the elevation and comparable weather prepares pitchers for Denver.
Reliever Rob Scahill, who spent most of the season at Colorado Springs, told The Denver Post he sees it both ways.
"The facility is going to be an upgrade, that's for sure," he said. "But I do think you need to pitch at Colorado Springs to compete here in Denver. If you can pitch at 1,000 feet higher and be successful, then you can succeed in Denver. So I think it's beneficial."
Geography hasn't been a factor in recent reshuffling. The 367 miles between the two new partners is not a lot except when compared with the 71 between Denver and the Sky Sox ballpark.
"Obviously it's not as close, but it's still going to be relatively convenient," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.
The Gazette's Brent Briggeman and Paul Klee contributed to this story.