Sunday, June 24, 2018 | 2 a.m.
A few minutes before the Reno Aces took the field Thursday to face the Las Vegas 51s, Aces infielder Ildemaro Vargas grabbed his glove to put the finishing touches on his warmup routine.
But this game of catch came with an unlikely partner — a grade school-age fan at Cashman Field who was eagerly standing near the visiting team’s dugout.
Minor league baseball is played in hundreds of towns of varying sizes each summer night, everywhere from Montana to Maine and many stops in between. And as this young fan can attest, you never know what memory will be created.
“Every night something cool can happen. That’s what is special about it,” said Don Logan, the 51s’ longtime president.
Spending a sizzling summer night at Cashman Field has become a rite of passage over the past 36 years in Las Vegas since the Triple-A franchise launched to give the valley its first true professional team. Our fathers took us to Cashman Field; we take our sons and daughters. We’ve indulged in the Dollar Beer Night promotion with friends, chased after foul balls as kids (and adults), and got so caught up in our conversation that keeping track of the score becomes a secondary concern.
Win or lose, you see, we keep coming back.
The team consistently averages 5,000 fans per game each season, relying on a core base of about 1,500 season ticket holders and plenty of walk-up traffic. Team officials estimate the average fan sees one to three games annually.
And why not? Tickets are as low as $12.
“I’ve been too many times to count (over the years),” said Bret Lofgren, 35. “It’s just a good night out.”
If there seems to be a wacky promotion or two each game, that’s by design, because part of the beauty of the minor league game is the quirkiness of what’s happening outside the playing field.
At Cashman Field, Finn the Bat Dog, a black lab, races out to home plate after each at bat during the initial three innings to bring the 51s’ bats back to the dugout.
Most nights, he receives the loudest cheers.
But, unlike lower levels of the minor leagues, the craziness is controlled. This, after all, is one step from the major leagues and players are jockeying for a big-league promotion. The quality of the product featuring future stars is a significant reason why officials say the franchise has thrived in the valley for more than three decades.
“We respect that these are future Major League Baseball players who are honing their craft here,” Logan said. “You have to give them a chance to do it.”
Thursdays are usually the best-attended games of the week because 8-ounce beers are $1. Mondays feature $1 concessions, and Fridays fans watch postgame fireworks.
Many fans have a memory to share.
Jaz Johnson has been going to 51s games for about 10 years. Yet Thursday, he said, was his most memorable because he brought his son, 5-year-old Jayson, to his first game. Each time 51s players jogged off the field between innings, Jayson jumped up and down pleading for a ball to be thrown in his direction.
Same for the other children in their section near the home dugout.
“We are here to support our hometown,” Jaz Johnson said. “This is something to do that’s not in the casino.”
There’s a lot of competition in Las Vegas each night for the entertainment dollar, whether that’s another sports team or the many shows on the Strip. The 51s have been sustainable all of these years because of their value — it costs less than $100 for a family of four, a true bargain.
Lofgren says there’s a “nostalgic feeling” of coming to Cashman Field each summer. Like many of us, he can recall attending a game as a child and can recite the future big-leaguers he watched play.
The 51s will move next season to a new stadium in Summerlin, where they expect to experience a spike in attendance. They’ll also change their name, even though many of us will still refer to them as the Stars, their original name when the franchise launched in 1982. (Locals still affectionately call Sam Boyd Stadium the Silver Bowl too).
What won’t change is the family fun. That’s been consistent since the 1980s.
“Welcome to the longest-running professional sports team in the history of Las Vegas,” the public address announcer proclaims before every game.
More about the 51s
• Why go: The Triple-A basen Why go: The Triple-A baseball franchise, which arrived in 1983 and is the area’s longest-tenured club, has featured a who’s who of notable players over the years—Sandy Alomar Jr., John Kruk Matt Kemp and Noah Syndergaard, to name a few. Quality players, from future stars pegged for the big leagues or major leaguers on a rehab assignment, give the 51s a quality product. Most important, nothing beats a day at the yard. Next season, it will get better when the franchise moves from its downtown home to a new stadium in Summerlin.
• Whom to watch: Infielder Gavin Cecchini, who played in 36 games in the big leagues in 2016 and ’17, is in his third season with the 51s and a fan favorite.
• Ticket prices: Reserved seats start at $12.
• Notable promotion: Not only is Budweiser Dollar Beer Night the 51s most popular promotion, it’s arguably the most known game-day deal in Las Vegas sports. The line to get $1 beers in 8-ounce cups is always lengthy. Attendance on Dollar Beer Night also spikes.
• Best concession: Anything on Mondays, when the Smith’s Value Menu offers $1 hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, pretzels and churros.
• Where: Cashman Field
• More information: milb.com/las-vegas