As Don Logan drives south into Henderson, the longtime Las Vegas 51s executive can’t help but look at the plot of undeveloped desert near Galleria Drive east of U.S. 95 and envision what might have been. On two separate occasions—the first starting in 1994, the second in 1999—Logan tried to bring Major League Baseball teams here for spring training, and the failure to make it happen still bothers him.
“There’s probably not a week that goes by that I don’t buzz by there and think about it,” says Logan, who has worked for Las Vegas’ Pacific Coast League baseball team since 1984. “And it’s still just sitting there, obviously. That’s the sad part about it to me. That’s a missed opportunity.”
The plan was to bring a minimum of four major league teams from Florida to Henderson, where about 200 acres of city-owned land would house a spring-training complex that would have cost $50 million at the time, and was targeted to open by 1999. However, that initial proposal was shot down in 1997, when the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board voted against the project after each team requested a $1 million guarantee and that the facility be built before signing on.
Logan, the City of Henderson and the LVCVA all were on board to give the project another go after Fox Entertainment Group purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998, and expressed a desire to ditch the team’s longtime spring-training base in Vero Beach, Florida, for one closer to L.A. Relocating to Henderson seemed a natural fit for the Dodgers, especially after Las Vegas became the Triple-A affiliate for Los Angeles in 2001. But when the Dodgers agreed in late 2006 to move to the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, sharing a complex with the Chicago
White Sox beginning in 2009, it effectively ended any hope of Henderson hosting Major League Baseball.
“For it to be the grand slam that it could have been, and should have been, we needed to do it when the Dodgers were coming west,” Logan says. “They have a great situation now at Camelback Ranch with the White Sox, a beautiful stadium. The economy tanking really hurt the development around it, but that area is going to come back, and it’s going to be phenomenal. And, look, they’re the Dodgers. You could put their spring-training facility in Pahrump, and they’d sell it out. They’re the Dodgers. And that’s why the opportunity was so unique.
“To me, putting the Dodgers here with three other teams would have been great for the Dodgers from a financial standpoint, great for the community from a financial standpoint, great for Henderson. There was no loser in this deal. We just didn’t react when we should have.”
Logan says bringing spring training to Henderson would have resulted in a “paradigm shift” for the 51s: It would have resulted in a new stadium for the Triple-A team, which has been seeking an upgrade from Cashman Field for more than a decade; with the new stadium in place, Mandalay Baseball Properties might not have sold the 51s in 2008 to the Stevens Baseball Group; and the 51s would likely still be the Triple-A team for the Dodgers, who after the 2008 season changed their affiliation to Albuquerque, where a stadium with more modern amenities had been built in 2003.
Henderson’s brush with professional baseball has found a place in civic lore—an enticing “what might have been.” Phil Speight, who was Henderson’s city manager from 1988-2007, says many residents still refer to the vacant piece of land—which is now targeted as the location of the Union Village health care complex (see Page 16)—as “the spring-training site.”
“It was very vibrant in that period of time, and there were a lot of proposals constantly coming at the mayor and council,” Speight says. “A lot of times, I got the feeling that Major League Baseball held most of the cards. But you can’t point the finger at any one entity. The planets just didn’t line up.”