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May 25, 2019

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Don’t forget 51s in new era of Las Vegas sports with Golden Knights and Raiders

51s Opener

L.E. Baskow

Early-arriving fans pick out a picturesque spot to take in the Las Vegas 51s’ home opener against Fresno at Cashman Field on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

51s Opener

As game time nears fans continue to stream into the stadium at Cashman Field for the Las Vegas 51s home opener versus the Fresno Grizzlies on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Launch slideshow »

We were sitting in the right field bleachers at Cashman Field for a sunny weekend day game when a foul ball was hit in our direction. Las Vegas Stars outfielder Sandy Alomar Jr. raced over with intentions of recording an out, but couldn’t reach the ball as it landed a few feet in front of us.

Yes, we saw Alomar, one of the best catchers of his generation, play in the outfield. We also got to see him catch more times than he would have liked.

Alomar was stuck in Triple-A because the Padres, the parent club of the Stars, had Benito Santiago as their catcher. So, here’s the second-best catcher in the game not-so-gracefully stumbling around in the 100 degree Las Vegas heat for pop flies, and hearing it from us middle-schoolers each time the ball went in his direction because we wanted a souvenir.

We didn’t care if the ball was in play — the expectation was to throw it into the stands. And this time, he did. He lobbed the ball seemingly perfectly to my friend, who also wasn’t too graceful in allowing it to hit off his chest and fall under the bleachers.

Yours truly emerged with the ball. Thanks, Sandy.

While I regretfully don’t have the ball anymore — we surely used it to play at the park — the memory of that day is still strong. The organization, now called the Las Vegas 51s and affiliated with the New York Mets, had its 35th home opener Tuesday at Cashman Field. Man, I am getting old.

I remember sitting in the outfield grass with my mom for one of the club’s first games, when our Stars took on the Padres. I was there when Kevin McReynolds ripped a home run off the scoreboard, and can guarantee that was the hardest ball hit at Cashman Field. We all wanted to hit it like McReynolds.

I covered Lindsay Gulin’s no-hitter in 2003 against Tacoma and still consider it one of the greatest sports feats in our town’s history. The 51s’ Pacific Coast League is similar to beer-league softball in that offense is king and even the best pitchers are known to have inflated earned run averages. Gulin, somehow, didn’t give up a hit. Remarkable.

We have mentioned in recent months how Las Vegas finally was granted its first professional franchise with the NHL’s Golden Knights. And then the area got another professional team with the NFL’s Raiders. Wrong.

Rather, the Golden Knights and Raiders are the area’s first major league franchises. You see, we’ve always had professional sports, and a pretty darn good franchise to boot, in the Stars. (Many of us locals still affectionately call the 51s by their initial name.)

They are our first love. They’ve been there year after year when we needed a night of sports entertainment, whether it was a fireworks promotion, dollar-beer night or for our kids to take a picture with Cosmo the mascot. They’ve maintained the test of time because of the quality of baseball — it, after all, is one step from the major leagues and we’ve seen many players such as Alomar hone their craft over the years.

Like my first experiences at Cashman Field in 1983, my kids will surely recite stories of their initial time attending a Golden Knights game or how we saved up enough pennies to watch the Raiders. But they’ll also appreciate the town’s Triple-A baseball franchise. It is, and always has been, a great night of affordable family entertainment.

As we usher in a new era of Las Vegas sports with major-league hockey and football, let’s not forget about chasing foul balls at Cashman Field (or in Summerlin when the team likely relocates) with friends.

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