Thursday, April 6, 2023 | 2 a.m.
D.J. Dozier rushed to his outfield position at Cashman Field on a warm spring day with baseball’s Las Vegas Stars in 1993. He looked down at his cleats and noticed something didn’t seem right. The white cleats had turned brown … from chocolate melted into the grass during an Easter egg hunt held before the game.
• 1983-2000: San Diego Padres
• 2001-2008: Los Angeles Dodgers
• 2009-2012: Toronto Blue Jays
• 2013-2018: New York Mets
• 2019-present: Oakland Athletics
“[His shoes] were ruined,” Don Logan, the franchise’s longtime president, remembers with a chuckle. “It goes to show that you never know what you’ll see when you go to the ballpark.”
The Triple-A team, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this season, began life as the Las Vegas Stars — Southern Nevada’s first professional sports squad — before morphing into the 51s in 2001 and then the Aviators in 2019, when it moved to the Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin. And, Logan says, the excitement of walking into the stadium never gets old.
“I always think back to when I was a little kid,” Logan says. “I remember going to [San Francisco’s] Candlestick Park and seeing the manicured dirt and grass and getting to watch Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. It was a feeling of pleasure. You felt so special being there. I’ve always felt that going to a game.”
Las Vegans have proved they share that passion. During the new ballpark’s first season, the 8,000-plus-capacity, $150 million venue led all of minor league baseball with 47 sellouts.
“The facility we have now, in the neighborhood we have it in, has resurrected baseball here to where this is a pleasant place to come and enjoy the game and some food,” Logan says. “We brought baseball into the 21st century.”
That’s because a night at the ballpark is about more than the product on the field, Logan says. It’s also about entertainment. For some, that means giveaways at the gate, $2 beer nights or postgame fireworks. For others, it’s the tradition of keeping a score book or racing for a foul ball.
“There is something about baseball that’s easy on the eyes and easy on the soul,” Logan summarizes.
Long before the Vegas Golden Knights arrived in 2017 as an expansion franchise, the Stars were the only professional game in town. And at any given game, you never knew what future major league standout you might see.
Kevin McReynolds was blasting home runs deep into the Las Vegas night long before his lengthy big league career. Sandy Alomar Jr., Ozzie Guillén, Roberto Alomar, Jacob deGrom and Pete Alonso are just a few of the future MLB stars who wore the words “Las Vegas” across their chests.
Tony Gwynn — considered one of baseball’s all-time purest hitters — was here, too, for 17 games on a rehab assignment in 1983.
“It was wonderful for us guys coming up through the system,” says Larry Brown, a pitcher with the original Stars who remained in town and eventually became a Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County commissioner. “Tony Gwynn was a superstar, and yet he treated us as equals. He signed autographs and talked to everyone.”
Brown, who now serves as the franchise’s director of business development, can’t pinpoint how many games he has witnessed over the years, but he knows he saw the franchise’s first-ever home run at Cashman Field (by Bruce Bochy, currently manager of the Texas Rangers) and the last-ever homer in that same stadium (by current Mets slugger Alonso).
Logan remembers watching Alomar roam the infield — “The game came so easy for him,” he marvels — and the way deGrom dazzled on the mound, because “everything he threw had life on it.”
There’s no telling what the next 40 years of baseball will look like locally, especially if the Oakland Athletics—the fifth of five parent clubs for Las Vegas’ Triple-A team—follow through on potential plans to relocate here.
The A’s, who remain in parallel negotiations with stakeholders in the Bay Area and in Clark County on potential new stadiums, are only guaranteed to play this season at their rundown Oakland Coliseum home.
Where they’ll end up is a toss up, but one thing isn’t, Logan says: The success of the Aviators at the Las Vegas Ballpark aids Southern Nevada’s pursuit of a big-league team. “It completely changed the dynamics of professional baseball here.”
And if the A’s do relocate here, what would it mean for the Aviators? The two teams could coexist, if the minor league franchise signs off on sharing the market and the Major League Baseball commissioner also agrees.
“If they come, it will be great for the town,” Brown says. “It really will.”
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.