They waited patiently. To park. To get into the spanking new facility. To buy an $8 hot dog and a $12 beer. To get to see their rebranded Triple-A baseball team.
It was quite a night for Las Vegas Tuesday. Too bad Mother Nature decided to spoil the party.
The Aviators, who were the 51s after coming to town in 1983 as the Stars, opened the doors to their $150 million Las Vegas Ballpark, which had been built in 14 months. There were 11,036 that showed up, mostly out of curiosity rather than the baseball, which is fine. That’s what happens on most Opening Nights.
By the third inning, the Aviators had posted a 6-0 lead and more than two-thirds of the seats had been vacated. By the time the Sacramento River Cats had their last licks, only a handful remained to celebrate the Aviators’ 10-2 victory and improve to 5-1 in the young Pacific Coast League season.
Where did everybody go?
My first guess was to Oz. The wind was blowing so hard Tuesday night, it scooped everyone up and transported them to the Emerald City. Those high-tech mesh seats which are supposed to be 68 percent cooler during the summer when the temperatures are in the triple digits probably should have come equipped with seat belts.
The gusts, which reached 40 mph, had the light poles swaying, the lights themselves flickering and had you wondering if the Apocalypse was indeed upon us.
The outfield wall in left field found itself as a collection bin for hot dog wrappers and other trash. I thought I was in Shea Stadium and Cleon Jones was in left. But it actually felt more like old Candlestick Park. I would have laid 6-5 that one of the pitchers was going to have a Stu Miller moment and get blown off the mound.
Who’s Stu Miller? I suggest you google him and find out.
Don Logan was taking it all in and he was still smiling. The Aviators’ president has been the face of baseball in this community for four decades now and it was his vision along with Howard Hughes Corporation’s money the made Tuesday possible. He wasn’t about to let a little wind … O.K., a lot of wind, ruin the evening.
“We’ve been at this for 20 years,” said Logan, who was in a jacket and tie instead of his usual polo shirt and Khakis. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The Las Vegas Ballpark is understatedly elegant. It has major league amenities for both players and fans. It has 21st Century sensibilities when it comes to fan experiences — from a kids area to an adult bar to a swimming pool — communal places where people can mingle, perhaps make new friends while enjoying the game unfolding on the field.
Heck, even the wifi worked. Which may have been the most important element of all in an age where people are married to their phones.
“The fan amenities are the most important thing,” Logan said. “This is all about doing it the right way for the fans.”
The Aviators took the best of several ballparks and incorporated it into their own stadium. There’s a 360-degree element to the place where you can walk around the entire park and experience the game from different vantage points. There’s a mini-Green Monster in left field where fans sit above the wall. There’s a grassy knoll in right field where you can bring a blanket and sit and stretch out. The suites are well designed with the option of watching from inside or sitting outside.
Mind you, none of this is cheap. If you’re going to a game, make sure your credit cards aren’t maxed out. The cheapest seat, on the right field berm, is $12. The Home Run Porch, those Fenway-style sats in left field, will set you back $60. But hey, the parking is free.
“We know the market. We know how it works,” Logan said of Las Vegas, which has gone gaga over its NHL team, the Golden Knights and pays far greater prices for tickets, food and beverage to watch a hockey game. “We’re not going to have $19 Bud Lights here, ever!”
But despite the higher prices to watch minor league baseball, most families will find a way to see the jewel of a stadium in Summerlin, at least for one evening. And they’ll like what they see. Especially if they ever attended a game at Cashman Field, the Aviators’ old home.
“You can’t do it half-assed,” Logan said of doing business in Las Vegas as a sports entity in 2019. “You have to do it right.”
This one, they got right.
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