Fans came for new park, found friendship

'Baseball mom,' 'daughter' connected during Vegas' first week

Bri Maldonado (left) refers to Brigitte Chambliss as her "baseball mom." The duo met at an Aviators game in April.

By Josh Jackson / | August 6, 2019 11:40 AM

As the eighth inning ended with her Las Vegas Aviators trailing the visiting El Paso Chihuahuas by a margin of 15-7, Brigitte Chambliss leaned back in her seat and texted her friend, "8 [runs] to go."

A moment later, her phone buzzed with Bri Maldonado's response: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

The Aviators managed to scrape only two more runs across in that July 25 loss -- the finale and series-clinching defeat in a three-game set at Las Vegas Ballpark.

"Not having Bri here tonight, that was hard. Tonight it was hard, because I was surrounded by Chihuahuas [fans]," Chambliss said. "I think the reason they do that is they know the Chihuahuas are going to kill us, so why not come to this series? But they do play good. The Chihuahuas play a good game."

It may be that the ability to admit admiration of the play of a division rival while bathing in the bitterness of a beating is the mark of a person who truly loves baseball. Chambliss and Maldonado, no doubt, fit into that category. The duo met during the opening weekend of Triple-A Las Vegas' new stadium and from the beginning they each knew they'd found a real and lasting friendship.

"We just started talking about how we came to love baseball, and our backgrounds and stuff like that," Maldonado said. "I found her very relatable… a female baseball fan. We had a lot in common, like both not being from Vegas. She's from Montana. I'm from Washington state."

Maldonado followed the 51s at Cashman Field and was excited for the debut of the Aviators, Las Vegas' rebranded Pacific Coast League franchise playing as an affiliate of the Oakland A's. She couldn't make it to Opening Night because of her job at a bank's vault but was determined to make it out to the $130 million facility in Summerlin during the first homestand. With a ticket for the first Sunday game in hand, she went online and found a ticket for sale for Saturday night's game, too. It was for an aisle seat in a section behind home plate.

"[It's] nice to have somebody... who knows the team and knows the game," Maldonado said.

"I'm so thankful that I chose that one, because right away [Chambliss] was just super-friendly," Maldonado said. "It was so nice being next to someone who knows the game and is as enthusiastic as I am."

Chambliss has season tickets -- for seats Nos. 2 and 3 on the row where Maldonado took seat No. 1 for the game when they first met. Neither of them showed up that day thinking they'd immediately form a deep connection with another fan ("Never in a million years," Chambliss said), but now Chambliss offers her extra ticket to Maldonado every time she doesn't have a specific reason to invite somebody else.

"It's been a fun year, just because of meeting new people all the time, but Bri, I know, will be a lifelong friend," Chambliss said. "She's the same age as my daughter, which makes me sound really old, but she calls me, 'Baseball Mom,' and she's my baseball daughter.

"Baseball just has that feeling. You don't get that anywhere else, I don't think. [Bri and I first connected over] just loving baseball, period, because it's a calming sport. It's a down-home sport. And it's two girls who can just come and watch a game and not care about anything else."

Generally speaking, Maldonado's work schedule limits her to weekend games, but the duo texts throughout the week to plan upcoming pregame dinner or drinks, or to celebrate or commiserate over the Aviators' fate on a given night. Whereas many Minor League Baseball fans focus on tracking prospects or enjoying the ballpark atmosphere and amusements, Chambliss and Maldonado are all about the what the Aviators -- as a whole -- are up to on the field. When the team's on the road, they follow along; they were delighted when Las Vegas pulled a three-game sweep at El Paso during the last weekend in July. (Entering the first full week of August, the Aviators trailed the Chihuahuas by one game in the PCL Pacific Southern Division.)

"The thing that I find interesting," Chambliss said, "we're happy to see the players make the step up [to the Majors], but you're so sad to see them go."

In late June, the A's called up Aviators closer Brian Schlitter, who'd saved 10 games for Las Vegas at that point. Returned to the PCL on July 31 but set to the injured list on Monday, he's been one of Chambliss' and Maldonado's favorites this year. So has Franklin Barreto, who jumped up to the Majors on June 30 but was optioned back to Las Vegas on Saturday. Catcher Sean Murphy, another mutual favorite and Oakland's No. 3 prospect, returned to action from a long stint on the IL by swatting four homers over two games, but has since been sent back to Arizona to deal with his reaggravated knee. Fourth-ranked A's prospect Jorge Mateo, whom Chambliss and Maldonado also count among their favorites, is one of just three Aviators to play in at least 100 of the team's first 113 games.

Video: Las Vegas' Mateo laces walk-off single

This revolving-door reality of Triple-A rosters is part of the challenge -- and to some extent, the fun -- of closely following a PCL club day in and day out throughout the season. With all that turnover, it's reassuring to know one can always see familiar faces in the stands.

"Any time I'm going, it's nice to have somebody I know is going to be at that game, too" Maldonado said. "I used to go to [games at Cashman Field] all by myself, which was no problem for me, but [it's] nice to have somebody just as excited, who knows the team and knows the game, just to have good company. That's really nice."

It's been so nice, in fact, that Chambliss and Maldonado's "baseball family" dynamic is becoming a regular family dynamic. Chambliss' daughter, Brittany, has been to a few games that Maldonado has also been at.

"The last time," Chambliss recalled, "my real daughter leaned over and she says, 'Mom, next time we all get together, you need to bring Bri with you.' I'm like, 'You got it.' That made Bri feel really good, because she doesn't have family in town. Our next family gathering, Bri's coming."

Likewise, Maldonado has plans to introduce Chambliss to members of her family. Her mother, Cristina, is coming to visit Las Vegas the second weekend in September. If the Aviators beat out the Chihuahuas, maybe they'll go to a playoff game. If not...

"Maybe we'll all get dinner," Maldonado said.

However long the rest of the season lasts, the duo plans to get to Las Vegas Ballpark as often as possible. But they won't necessarily be going solely to home games in the future.

2019 MiLB include

"We've talked about going on a baseball road trip," Maldonado said. "That would be really fun to do, check out another ballpark. They always advertise a contest at Aviators games: 'Enter this to win a trip to an Oakland A's game.' I finally found that link online and entered for us. We'll see how that goes."

At home or on the road, Minor Leagues or Majors, they're both happy to take in some good baseball together.

"It's a friendship that started in 2019 and will probably last forever," Chambliss said.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to 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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