Former 51s fans soar into Aviators' space

After Cashman, Las Vegas Ballpark makes strong impression

Whatever their feelings on Cashman Field, fans who've come out to Las Vegas Ballpark this year have found a big difference.

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | July 30, 2019 10:45 AM

LAS VEGAS -- As a Triple-A ballpark, Cashman Field had its knocks. Built in the early '80s, it featured a rock-hard playing surface, out-of-date training amenities and nearly unbearable heat. In 2015, raw sewage backed up into the home dugout. The next year, team president Don Logan was on record calling it "the worst facility" in the Pacific Coast League.

"Going way back to the olden days, I've been to that tuna can a few times," said Peter Dubowsky, one of many local baseball fans who rooted for the 51s at Cashman and now cheer on the Aviators at Las Vegas Ballpark.

Not all of them look back on the Downtown Las Vegas stadium (which remains in operation as host of the United Soccer League's FC Lights) with outright derision, but their approval of the new ballpark in the Howard Hughes Corporation-owned planned community of Summerlin is nearly unanimous. Twenty minutes from the Strip, Las Vegas Ballpark opened in April after the team was acquired by the Hughes Corporation in 2017 and rebranded as the Aviators for the 2019 season.

"They had good loyal fans coming out to both of them, but it's hard to compare this to Cashman," said Keenan Raftery, who's held season tickets at both facilities. "This is such a big deal for the community. This is really good for Las Vegas. There are folks here in town, they aren't even baseball fans, who will come out and watch the Aviators. As I've told them, even if you don't like baseball, the experience is so good you're going to enjoy your time."

That may be a truism across the Minors, but if ever there was an exception, it was Las Vegas. In a town with a nightlife more robust and spectacle-oriented than that of most Major League cities, cute giveaways and between-innings promos aren't necessarily a strong enough draw for people who aren't baseball fans.

Raftery, uncle to the Rockies' Tyler Anderson, grew up going to football games at the site of Cashman Field before it became home to the PCL's Stars and, later, 51s. Following Anderson's journey up the pro baseball ladder, he visited a number of Minor League parks.

"I went to Frisco [in the Double-A Texas League], which is a really cool stadium," Raftery said. "A lot of fans there told me they would go to that game [instead of] the Rangers game for two reasons: They wouldn't have to travel too far, and they had that great experience of that Minor League park.

"I was telling [Logan] about that years ago. I said, 'Boy, I'll tell you, I saw [Dr Pepper Ballpark]...' He goes, 'I was part of the development of that.' I said, 'You should take something like that, because that's awesome.' Well, this is even more awesome."

Among the "awesome" features are a 360-degree walkable concourse, specialty food options galore, a water park, a pool for groups (already sold out through the rest of the debut season), breathable mesh seats throughout the park, an enormous videoboard and a generally upgraded atmosphere.

"I think the crowd's made a lot of difference," said Becca Dadlaney, who grew up in Las Vegas and attended many 51s games at Cashman. "Because it's new and sparkly and exciting, I really think the crowd is amped up and excited to be here."

The move from Downtown to Summerlin has also made it easier for local families to come out. Raftery, who works at the Wynn Las Vegas on the Strip during the day but lives near the ballpark, tends to avoid the city's tourist hot spots during non-working hours. He said that was typical for most of the Vegas residents he knows.

"People don't understand that people in Las Vegas have families," he said. "Little League games, and all the churches and everything. It's very normal. I have friends who have kids who are playing Little League, and they're all bringing them out here. It's big. It's a big deal."

Video: Aviators fans talk new Las Vegas Ballpark

Steve Land, who lives in the area, loved going to PCL games at Cashman but didn't become a season ticket holder until Las Vegas Ballpark was set to open.

"I can be here in five minutes," he said. "I'd rather be here than sitting at home watching TV. I needed something to help bring the family, that we can do together, that is close."

But a more family-friendly atmosphere doesn't mean the Aviators have abandoned Las Vegas flash altogether, nor does it mean that out-of-towners aren't likely to attend games. The second level, where Raftery's seat is, has an indoor dining area, where celebrity chefs such as Giada De Laurentiis have appeared. He described the Opening Night scene in that club section "like going to a casino or a bar." Zach Wolpuff, who's based in Washington, D.C., showed up in a 51s hat and a 51s Noah Syndergaard jersey. He'd enjoyed a game at Cashman last year but was blown away by the new park's mountain views and the surrounding neighborhood.

"If I was thinking about moving out to Vegas, I would be looking here," he said. "That's how beautiful it is."

Gameday staff members see the upgrade reflected in the happiness of the people filling the seats.

"Everybody here seems to be in a better mood when they come to this park. ... When this is at its max, we're talking about 11,000 seats, and we've sold them out a few times," on-field emcee Andy Martello said.

"The prices have gone up a little bit compared to the old park, but it's a $130 million brand new stadium. You've got to expect a few little things. Plus, at the old place you had to pay for parking, and the food was not as good and the beer was not as good, and the temperatures in the seats, and the atmosphere was not as good."

If most longtime fans look back on Cashman with some degree of fondness, the same cannot generally be said for players. The Athletics' Eric Campbell, who has already clubbed a career-high 12 home runs with an OBP above .360 for the Aviators, played 269 games with the 51s from 2013-16.

"It really is night and day," he said. "First of all, inside -- the clubhouse, the weight room, the training room, the kitchen -- it's pretty much a Major League feel. Then you go outside, and it's an awesome place to play. ... We're getting 10,000 fans a night, which you don't find in the Minor Leagues a whole lot, so that part compared to Cashman just makes it fun coming to work every day."

Nobody ever called Cashman a pitcher's paradise, but Campbell appreciates that Las Vegas Ballpark is even more hitter-friendly.

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"The ball flies here, not only with home runs. I think the infield is a lot faster than a lot of fields, too, so we're getting a lot of groundball hits," he said. "Playing in Vegas with the high elevation is awesome for fans. Let's face it -- people want to come see home runs and see 8-7 games and 10-9 games ... so I think that helps bring out a lot of people, too."

Whatever the score, fans like Dubowsky are happy to watch the game in a state-of-the-art facility as bright and sleek as the city they call home.

"This is it. This is it. This is a ballpark," he said. "Minor League Baseball, this is -- you can enjoy it. Beautiful park. Great game. Real baseball. Yes."

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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