Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2022

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Why Triple-A baseball isn’t leaving Las Vegas

City’s location makes travel schedule work for far-flung league on budget

One of the more interesting rumors making the rounds during the Microwave Oven Circuit — because Triple-A baseball and betting against the Yankees is as good as it gets in Las Vegas, the Hot Stove League doesn’t play here — is that we might be in jeopardy of losing the 51s, maybe even sooner than later.

These rumors began right after the Dodgers announced they were pulling an Elisabeth Shue and leaving Las Vegas — for Albuquerque. In baseball, this is seen as a good thing, which only goes to show that Cashman Field must be in worse shape than any of us thought.

Then it was announced that our new parent club would be the Toronto Blue Jays, which is sort of like saying if there were a Triple-A for guitar players, we’d get the bass player from the Grass Roots. “Landing” the Jays might have been a surprise if it weren’t for the fact that when the music stopped in Triple-A musical chairs, Cashman Field and the Toronto American League Ball Club were the only ones still standing.

That is, if you don’t count Tucson Electric Park, which became the Pacific Coast League’s version of Ebbets Field when they broke ground for a new ballpark in downtown Reno with all the trimmings.

These rumors about Las Vegas losing the 51s intensified. What if they build a new ballpark with all the trimmings somewhere closer to Toronto than Southern Nevada — which doesn’t exactly narrow it down, because almost everywhere is closer to Toronto than Southern Nevada. Wouldn’t it behoove the Blue Jays to move there?

Or what if those old men who wear black socks with sandals who form half of Tucson’s population decide they miss the Sidewinders, miss going to see a ballgame for the price of a meal at Furr’s Cafeteria? They still have nice batting cages at Tucson Electric Park, so why wouldn’t the Blue Jays want to develop the next Garth Iorg or Rance Mulliniks on a dusty diamond in Arizona?

Well, maybe they would. But it’s not their call.

The PCL owns the territorial rights to Las Vegas and, according to Donnie Baseball — not the one who played first base for the Yankees but Don Logan, the longtime president and general manager of the 51s — it does not plan to revoke those rights any time soon or any time later, like when the Cubs win the World Series, for instance.

Logan has tried to explain that to me a couple of times. Every time he does, it sounds more complicated than the balk rule and I can’t seem to get my batting helmet around it.

So he suggested I call Branch, as in Branch Barrett Rickey III, whose grandfather you might have heard of. He’s the reason that if Bruce Sutter were still throwing split-fingered fastballs, he’d have to switch jersey numbers, because No. 42 was Jackie Robinson’s number, and if I have to tell you who was responsible for Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, then you aren’t watching the reruns of Ken Burns’ “Baseball” on the MLB Channel this month.

The original Branch Rickey’s grandson has served as PCL president since 1997. In just three words he summed up why Las Vegas will have a PCL team until further notice or the next time Ichiro loses a fly ball in the sun in Seattle:

Location, location, location.

The PCL isn’t the South Atlantic League, where the Augusta Green Jackets can travel for a series against the Ashville Tourists by bus. It’s 150 miles from Augusta to Ashville. It’s 1,866 miles from New Orleans to Sacramento. If you went by bus, your rear end would be flatter than the Texas Panhandle. Plus, the starting rotation would be broke, because the poker game would last forever.

In the PCL, air travel is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. An expensive necessity. Take Las Vegas out of the equation and it becomes even more costly and a bigger logistical nightmare to get from one PCL city to the next.

Guys who own minor league baseball teams aren’t big fans of travel expenses and logistical nightmares.

“Anyone who is a frequent traveler knows what an incredible challenge it is these days to start in any one of our 16 cities at the crack of dawn and end up in another one by 2 p.m.” in time for batting practice, Rickey said. “We are the only (minor) league that spans three time zones.”

In a perfect world, there would be no steroids or designated hitters and a modern ballpark with batting cages would magically appear in downtown Las Vegas. But Rickey said our city’s location and its ability to get utility infielders in and out of town at a moment’s notice more than make up for the narrow concourses and lack of restrooms at Cashman Field.

“Any other questions can be set aside ... because of that pivotal issue,” he said. “From a league point of view, we’re entirely dedicated to protecting the Las Vegas territory.”

So when it comes to our city’s professional baseball future being tied to a new ballpark, it’s really not a matter of if we built it, will they stay?

It’s more like if we build it, that would be nice. But not essential.

The lines to use the restrooms form on the right.

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