Monday, March 31, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Fireworks displays and bobblehead doll giveaways will come and go, but the Great Easter Egg Hunt of 1993 will go down in the annals of memorable local sports promotions.
The Las Vegas Stars — as the local Triple-A baseball team was called then — were playing an afternoon game at Cashman Field on Easter. The team’s marketing department came up with the seemingly brilliant idea of holding an Easter egg hunt on the outfield grass. So far, so good.
The team placed several hundred pounds of chocolate in left field and an estimated 3,000 children showed up a couple of hours before the game to take part in the festivities. What the Stars front office hadn’t counted on was that the temperature would be an unseasonably warm 80 degrees at 10 in the morning. By the time the children made their mad dash to collect their Easter treats, the sun had melted most of them and turned left field into a chocolate quagmire.
Large brown patches of melted chocolate could be seen from the stands as the Stars and left fielder D.J. Dozier took the field. Several times during the game, Dozier had to summon the trainer, who used a wooden tongue depressor to scrape the accumulating muck out of Dozier’s cleats. Dozier said the stench of melted chocolate had made him queasy throughout the game and the mess ruined his shoes.
Although it is unlikely the Las Vegas 51s will stage another chocolate Easter egg hunt, promotions are a key to the team’s financial well-being, according to Don Logan, the 51s president and minority owner. The Pacific Coast League team will have some type of promotion — including $1 beer nights, fireworks displays and giveaways — at 33 of its 72 home dates this season.
“Baseball fans everywhere have come to expect it, so obviously you’ve got to do it,” Logan said. “In our case, we try to do nice, quality stuff or, in the case of fireworks, put on a quality show.”
But an inexpensive cup of beer or a well-crafted desk clock is no substitute for putting a winning product on the field, Logan said.
“Winning — and winning a lot — can have a dramatic and positive impact on your bottom line,” he said. “One of the reasons Sacramento has become the top minor league franchise in the country has a lot to do with the fact that they continue to win and they continue to have great teams.
“That said, you still have to do the promotions ... but the game is first and foremost. The game absolutely matters.”
Billy Johnson, president of the Las Vegas Wranglers hockey team, does not subscribe to the belief that winning alone will put bodies in the seats.
“If you follow the logic that winning boosts attendance, then we should be sold out every night, and that’s not the case,” Johnson said. “We’re probably the most successful on-the-field sports team that Vegas has seen in a very long time.
“Last year we tied a global record for most consecutive wins (18), and it did not move the needle” on the team’s attendance.
Johnson may have a point. The 51s enjoyed their second-best season at the gate in 1993, when they drew 386,310 fans — the same year the team posted its second-worst record in franchise history (58-85).
Even Logan agreed that winning is just one piece of the attendance puzzle.
“Winning is a big part of it,” he said. “That said, you still have to do the all the little things: The beer has to be cold, the hot dogs have to be hot and the buns have to be fresh.”
And it doesn’t hurt if that cold beer only costs you a buck.
Familiar names pepper 51s roster
There will be a few recognizable faces when the Las Vegas 51s open their 26th season in Las Vegas on Thursday, but “experience” will be the buzzword around Cashman Field.
Miguel Pinango, a 10-game winner last year for Las Vegas, will anchor the 51s pitching staff. John Lindsey, who hit 19 home runs and drove in 88 runs last year, will return at first base.
Other returning pitchers expected to start the season in Las Vegas include right-handed reliever Eric Hull and left-handers Eric Stults and Greg Miller. Hull was 4-3 with 11 saves in 49 games in 2007.
Among the newcomers expected to see playing time for second-year manager Lorenzo Bundy are veterans Danny Ardoin, John-Ford Griffin and George Lombard.
Ardoin, a catcher, has appeared in 141 major-league games as a catcher for Minnesota, Texas, Colorado and Baltimore. Griffin, an outfielder, spent last season at Triple-A Syracuse and hit 26 home runs and drove in 83 runs. Lombard, an outfielder who has played in 144 major-league games with four teams, spent last season at Triple-A Columbus, where he hit .244 in 49 games.
Chin-Lung Hu, who hit .318 in 45 games as the 51s shortstop last year, is expected to start this season with the parent Los Angeles Dodgers because of injuries to Nomar Garciaparra and Andy Laroche, but should see plenty of playing time in Las Vegas once they return.
The 51s are coming off a 67-77 season in which they finished last in the four-team Pacific South Division of the Pacific Coast league. Las Vegas drew 371,676 fans to Cashman Field in 2007 — the third-best attendance mark in the 25-year history of the franchise.
2008 LAS VEGAS 51s PROMOTIONS
April 3 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night/Magnetic Schedule
April 4 — Russell Martin Bobblehead Night
April 5 — Fireworks
April 10 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
April 19 — 51s T-shirt Night
April 22 — Cox Communications Kids Day
April 24 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
April 25 — 51s Seat Cushion Night
April 26 — L.A. Dodgers Fleece Blanket Night
May 8 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
May 9 — Fireworks
May 10 — Kids Carnival
May 23 — Fireworks
May 24 — Joe Torre Bobblehead Night
June 5 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
June 6 — Fireworks
June 7 — L.A. Dodgers Cap Night
June 12 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
June 19 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
June 20 — 51s Desk Clock Night
July 2 — Fireworks Extravaganza
July 3 — Fireworks Extravaganza/Budweiser Dollar Beer
July 10 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
July 11 — Takashi Saito Bobblehead Night
July 12 — Indoor Kids Carnival
July 24 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
July 25 — Fireworks
July 26 — L.A. Dodgers Giveaway TBA
Aug. 8 — Fireworks
Aug. 9 — L.A. Dodgers Cooler Bag Night
Aug. 28 — Budweiser Dollar Beer Night
Aug. 29 — Fireworks
Aug. 30 — Fan Appreciation Night/Fireworks
(All promotions subject to change)