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October 20, 2014

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Drinking in Cashman’s charm … or lack thereof

How can Vegas’ baseball experience be so un-Vegas?

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Leila Navidi

Cheap beer and lots of available seating!

Sometime around the bottom of the fourth inning, the sun starts setting behind the left-field grandstand at Cashman Field, the rugged stadium that houses Las Vegas’ minor-league baseball team.

The vision is a postcard of America, something out of Field of Dreams or The Natural. The red sky floats above the mountains, a couple of palm trees behind the outfield wall providing a silhouette. In the middle of it all rests another symbol of America—a towering Budweiser sign atop the scoreboard. It’s fitting.

On this particular Thursday night, few people arrive at the old ballyard to see the Las Vegas 51s battle the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. Of those few, even fewer stop to appreciate the view.

Not when $1 Budweiser or Bud Light can be had.

The college kids start pounding beers in the parking lot an hour before the first pitch. Nothing like getting a few in ya before sitting in the Las Vegas sun for a few hours of drinking. Thursday Dollar Beer Nights are likely the most popular of the season—minus opening day and games on the 4th of July. And still, the stands are half-empty.

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The Las Vegas team, originally called the Stars, has been in town since 1983, outlasting a minor-league hockey franchise, an arena football squad and even a team that played in the Canadian Football League. Yet it still only draws fewer than 5,000 people per night. And that’s the announced ticket sales. There are significantly fewer people actually present.

Even on Dollar Beer Night.

This isn’t an original gimmick in baseball. Infamously, in 1974, the Cleveland Indians hosted Ten Cent Beer Night, distributing cups of Stroh’s for a dime. Streakers, flashers, mooners and brawlers descended on the stadium. Riots erupted after a fan tried to steal a player’s hat, and Cleveland forfeited the game. A week later the team held another Ten Cent Beer Night.

Cheap beer always sells.

But what about drawing people every other day? Cashman Field is in such bad shape, the Los Angeles Dodgers moved their affiliation to Albuquerque. There seems little hope of a new stadium getting built. And this one doesn’t seem to be utilized right.

Two grassy knolls—in each corner of the outfield—go unused nearly every night. Those could easily be the best places to catch a game. That is, if you can stand the heat. Going to a game when it’s 110 degrees out is nearly impossible. The team desperately needs to find a way to cool the seats.

And have some pizzazz with the promos.

The ECHL hockey team, the Las Vegas Wranglers, finds success with much-talked-about promotions. Each year it hosts a game that starts at midnight. It also has a 21-and-over night, allowing the Orleans Arena to feel like a nightclub surrounding a hockey game. And who can forget last year’s Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night?

There’s none of this flair at Cashman. The games start at 7 p.m., when the sun has literally made the seats too hot to sit in. All of the promotions involve bobbleheads or free hats.

There’s not even a dash of Vegas marketing know-how. No way of celebrating what this place is, minus the Gordie Brown billboard on the left-field wall. No showgirls or neon. Just brownish grass in center field and a plain concrete concourse.

Perhaps the 51s staff wants to celebrate the purity of the game by keeping halter tops off the beer vendors. Or maybe the organization is trying to give us an escape from the bright lights, a throwback to simpler times when baseball was the best entertainment in America.

But, really, if we all wanted to escape what Las Vegas is, we’d move back to where we came from.

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