There’s been a lot of speculation about the future of professional baseball in Las Vegas. Mayor Oscar Goodman has come out this month and said that a major league team is looking at the city, and the 51s’ player development contract with the Toronto Blue Jays expires next month, although the parties seem likely to renew their partnership through 2012.
Regardless of those developments, this is certain: No matter which team is playing here in the next few years, it will be housed at Cashman Field.
Many local officials have talked for more than a decade about the need for a new stadium to replace the 9,334-seat Cashman, but with no alternative in place—or even in planning—51s General Manager Don Logan says the short-term is to stay the course.
“We’ll just keeping doing what we’re doing,” Logan says. “That’s all we can do.”
The 51s’ lease with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which owns and operates Cashman Field, was to expire at the end of this season, but the LVCVA earlier this year unanimously approved an extension to use the ballpark through 2014, with an option to extend the agreement to 2018. The extension also gives the Triple-A franchise an out with a one-year notification if the team secures a lease for a stadium in Clark County.
Cashman Field, which opened in 1983, is now one of the oldest Triple-A stadiums in the country. And while it is still a fine place to watch a ballgame, it has fallen behind the times. There is a shortage of restrooms, concession areas and luxury suites, and the players have to deal with small locker rooms and no training facilities.
“The place is outdated,” Logan says. “No one wants to go public and say that. … The place really has limitations. It was built 28 years ago; it’s an old place.”
It is because of Cashman Field that the Los Angeles Dodgers dropped Las Vegas as its Triple-A affiliate following the 2008 season. After partnering with the 51s for eight years, the Dodgers returned to Albuquerque, N.M.
Cashman Field is part of Cashman Center, which encompasses 483,000 square feet, but Logan says any remodeling of the facility to accommodate baseball would be more expensive than building a new stadium.
“Our fans and the community deserve a state-of-the-art facility,” he says. “It’s going to take time. Obviously, the economic situation that the whole world is currently going through has changed the dynamics, but we’re just going to work on it and continue to look for a way to make that happen.”
What makes it especially galling for Logan is the fact that Reno built a state-of-the-art 9,100-seat stadium in 2009 for the Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Aces Ballpark, which is the centerpiece of a planned downtown Reno redevelopment effort, received up to $32 million in financing through a rental-car tax in Washoe County.
When the subject of “public money” to finance a new stadium in Las Vegas comes up, Logan gets visibly upset. He says a new stadium wouldn’t mean giving up things like police and fire protection, or new roads.
“There’s many forms of public money,” he says. “Stadiums and development around stadiums create jobs, they create new tax revenue, they create many opportunities that wouldn’t exist but for the stadiums. And that public money thing is a liberal, militant, bullshit concept that should never be thrown out, but it’s thrown out every time people talk about a stadium and it’s wrong.
“You can build a stadium, and it can be a public-private partnership that’s going to benefit the community, it’s going to benefit everybody involved, and that’s how you’ve got to look at it.”
Through 65 home games, the 51s were averaging a reported 4,630 fans per game, which includes discounted group tickets and tickets given out to charities. With the team’s home schedule wrapping up Aug. 29, the franchise has already reached 300,000 total fans this season—a mark it has achieved each year of its existence.
Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, who pitched for the Las Vegas Stars at Cashman Field in 1983 and ’84, says the impetus for a new stadium has run on a “parallel track” since a proposed spring training facility in Henderson failed to take shape in the ’90s. For now, however, he says the 51s have to find a balance between the franchise’s present and its future.
“It’s almost an interim period where we have to maintain that product, because good things will happen,” he says.
Brown doesn’t think that a new stadium has to be close to downtown, but says it does need to be part of a larger development that could include restaurants and shopping, and become an investment not only for the LVCVA but also the city and baseball fans.
“What’s convenient for the 2 million people in the Valley?” he asks. “Where can we locate a facility that not only continues to provide the baseball component, but has an opportunity for spin-off development?”
Besides the off-the-field issues related to Cashman, the playing surface itself has also been a sore spot. Logan says that’s related to the stadium’s age.
“The players play at all the other facilities in our league, and they know how nice things are at other places,” he says. “And then they come home to one of the greatest cities in America, and we have one of the oldest facilities and one of the most challenged facilities. It makes me feel bad for the people who work here every day because it’s not their fault.”
So while a new stadium is largely contingent on the priorities of the city and the LVCVA, Logan says he doesn’t see a day when Las Vegas would lose professional baseball because of its stadium issues.
“No other professional team has ever flourished and survived as long as we have,” he says.