Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2019

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RON KANTOWSKI:

The grass is greener in Reno. Really.

Political leadership in Las Vegas failed to match northern rival’s vision

Baseball

Kevin Clifford / Nevada Appeal

Construction crews work to put the finishing touches on Aces Ballpark during media day April 7 in downtown Reno. The ballpark was financed partly with about $30 million of county-issued bonds backed by a car-rental tax set up in 2003.

On the very night the Reno Aces christened their beautiful new $50 million ballpark in downtown Reno against the dreaded Salt Lake Bees, the Las Vegas 51s opened their home season against the dreaded Colorado Springs Sky Sox at Cashman Field.

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Aces Ballpark (don’t you just love the old-school name?) has a capacity of 9,100 with standing room surrounding the entire field. There are two party zones with picnic table seating, 22 luxury skyboxes, a 150-person club suite and two 15-person luxury dugout suites immediately behind home plate. There are 150 toilets and urinals.

Cashman Field becomes a party zone on $1 beer night, so it’s kinda like Aces Ballpark, at least on Thursdays. You can stand around the whole field at Cashman, too, although that makes it hard to get to the restrooms. So unlike the 51s’ bullpen with a one-run lead, you learn to hold it.

Yeah, I know, the grass is always greener on the other side of the outfield fence. That was literally the case Friday. The pictures from Reno made Aces Ballpark look like the Emerald City when the A’s or The Riddler are in town. I’ve never seen so much green.

At Cashman Field, the patchy yellow-green outfield grass sort of looked like the Canadian prairie. Maybe this was done on purpose, to commemorate the team’s new affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays. The infield grass was even more gnarly. It looked like the fairways on a municipal golf course that was delinquent on its water bill.

Normally, that’s the one thing you could count on at Cashman Field. The field always looked good. There’s not a thing you can do about the narrow concourses but at least the grass was always green.

It turns out the grass looks lousy on purpose, but it has nothing to do with making transplanted 51s fans from Saskatchewan feel right at home. To make the field look so green and lush on opening day, the grounds crew has to overseed it. Then by July and August, it looks worse than the 51s’ fielding percentage.

This year, nature was allowed to run its course.

“It still plays OK,” 51s President Don Logan says of the diamond in the rough. Or at least the rough-looking diamond.

It’ll come around, Logan said. In July and August, the grass will look great.

Nobody’s sure about the team’s fielding percentage. Maybe somebody has overseeded the 51s’ gloves with too much Neatsfoot oil.

But what really bugs me about all this is that Reno has something better than we have, and I’m not just talking about the National Bowling Stadium or its college football team.

Aces Ballpark was a necessity, because once Reno committed to bringing the Tucson Sidewinders to the banks of the Truckee River, it had to have a ballpark in which to play. The new yard was completed in just 14 months, which shows what can happen when everybody — starting with those in city hall — is on the same page, pulling for something.

It also shows what can happen when you get lucky or clairvoyant and the winter is milder than usual.

You’d have trouble finding financing for a Wiffle ball stadium in today’s economy. Had they dragged their feet in Reno, the Aces still would be playing in Tucson, which would have made some old guys there who wear black socks with sandals very happy.

“If you had to start a (stadium) project right now, it would be absolutely impossible,” said Stuart Katzoff, managing partner of the Aces.

The thing is, we didn’t have to start a stadium project now. We could have passed a rental car tax and started it 14 months ago, like they did in Reno. Or five years ago, when the Dodgers complained there weren’t enough batting cages at Cashman Field. Or in 1996, when the Oakland A’s opened the season here when the Oakland Coliseum was under repair, and Mike Bordick and Jason Giambi got dressed in the hotel, like an American Legion team, because there wasn’t enough room in the locker room.

But unlike in Reno, where the politicians and other movers and shakers think Triple-A baseball is a pretty big deal, ours thought the Montreal Expos were serious about moving here.

So now Reno has a new team and a new ballpark while we’ve got goats mowing the infield grass and signs in the parking lot that look like they haven’t been painted since the ballpark opened in 1983.

Financing a new $50 million minor league ballpark may be out of the question, but how much would it cost to paint those faded blue signs?

I say give Sherwin-Williams an ad on the outfield fence in exchange for a few gallons of exterior acrylic latex, if that’s what it takes.

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