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October 23, 2014

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Baseball:

Mets brass visit Las Vegas, talk about new relationship with 51s

New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson likens the Mets’ new affiliation with the Las Vegas 51s to a game of Old Maid that his team had lost, albeit by destiny.

Last month, after the Toronto Blue Jays decided to move their Triple-A affiliate from Las Vegas to Buffalo, N.Y., the Mets and 51s were left to forge a partnership. They did, announced it Sept. 17 and formally introduced the deal Thursday.

“It wasn’t, honestly, by choice,” Alderson said at a news conference Thursday at Cashman Field. “There was a mutuality of interest, but we were destined to be together.”

Whether Alderson is genuinely excited about that destiny is open to debate. But given how many high-level Mets executives, including manager Terry Collins and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon, came to Las Vegas for the news conference, the Mets — at least with a strong poker face — showed great interest in the new relationship.

“There was a perception that this was a marriage of necessity,” Alderson said. “To some extent it was, but at the same time, we’re happy to be here. The best way to express that was to have a strong showing (from the big league club).

“This is not something we’re going to have to endure. We view it as a positive thing. We want Las Vegas to feel, like we do, that it’s a constructive relationship.”

Chuck Johnson, Las Vegas 51s general manager and vice president of marketing, preferred to call the new partnership fate.

“Fate is a wonderful way to say it,” Johnson said. “It’s fantastic for us to have the relationship with the Mets.”

From an organizational standpoint, having a Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas presents new challenges for the Mets — including travel arrangements for player promotions and demotions.

The biggest may come in the form of switching Triple-A leagues.

The Mets are moving to the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League from the, by comparison, pitcher-friendly world of the International League.

Developmentally, being in the PCL could be a boon for the Mets at the plate.

Last season, the 51s finished tied for first in the PCL with a .298 batting average. The Mets, on the other side, struggled and saw their offense hit .249 for the year — a number that all PCL teams eclipsed.

“We stopped hitting,” Collins said. “It’s important to send some guys here to produce runs. I’m anxious to see how they do here. If they can hit, they’ll put up big numbers and this team will be successful.

“If you look at the guys who are big players in the coast league, they’re big players in the majors.”

On the flip side, Alderson and Collins showed no concern about their pitchers — long considered the strength of the Mets farm system — losing confidence in the PCL.

Being a pitcher in the Pacific Coast League “makes you tougher. It makes you fight,” Collins said. “You’re not going to have easy outings, but that’s what the big-league level is all about — grinding it out. To get experience in this ballpark and league, it’ll make pitchers better.”

The Mets brass also talked about their Triple-A facilities. Cashman Field has been a big point of discussion after the 51s received a new 10-year lease this month.

Collins, who played and managed previously in the PCL, said the field wasn’t greatly different from when he first stepped foot at Cashman Field.

Johnson admitted Cashman could use a few improvements, including indoor facilities for the players. He reiterated, however, that the fan experience — at least from a viewing standpoint — was still up to par.

“Cashman Field is a beautiful place to play,” Johnson said.

Alderson wasn’t overly critical of the facilities, stating, “We need to live in this place before we make suggestions and demands.”

Talks have begun about the potential of the Mets playing a spring training game in Las Vegas, and neither side would say whether the relationship would last past the two years.

Johnson remains confident a long-term relationship between the Mets and Las Vegas could happen, given the high volume of New York tourists and transplants in the valley.

“We’re one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and we can make this relationship a long-term one,” Johnson said.

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