Let's Play Two: Las Vegas Aviators, Reno Aces Start Seasons
Nevada’s two Triple-A baseball teams are ready to chug onto the field for opening day this week.
In Reno, the Pacific Coast League Aces are marking a decade in Greater Nevada Field. It gave downtown Reno a shot in the arm when it opened in the depths of the Great Recession.
In Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Aviators — previously known as the 51s — will play in the new, $150 million Las Vegas Ballpark.
Team President Don Logan said the new ballpark is a culmination of years of work.
The suburban stadium will offer amenities not available at aging Cashman Field downtown, where the PCL team played for 30 years.
Logan said simple things like not enough bathrooms and the treacherous walk down the hill from the Cashman Field top parking lot to the stadium made it less than desirable place to watch a game.
"The unfortunate thing for Cashman was that it just didn't keep pace from a fan perspective," he said, "You have got to have fan amenities."
Logan said because of the little things that made it uncomfortable to come to a game people wouldn't come as often.
"Las Vegas Ballpark is everything that Cashman isn't," he said, including easier to get to with more ways to drive into and out of the stadium and it's 1,000 feet higher up, which he says will make it seven degrees cooler in the heat of the summer.
Besides the fan experience, one of the biggest complaints about the old field was its training facilities for the players. Minor league teams provide an essential service for their Major League partners by helping them develop new players and rehab injured big leaguers.
However, Logan said the facilities at Cashman were not state of the art. Now, the facilities match the needs of the players and the coaching staff. Plus, Logan said playing in front stands full of fans helps the players.
"Just having people in the stands," he said, "I think when there's energy in the stands. You've got fans there. There is a level expectation. It raises the level of intensity that a player is going to have."
Already the ticket sales are reflecting that fan energy, Logan said. The tickets sales are seven times higher than at Cashman.
One of the most important parts of the fan experience is the food. Logan said the biggest complaint he heard from fans at Cashman was the hot dogs were cold and the beer was warm.
Sarah Camerota is the hospitality experience curator at the Ballpark and she promises it will be the very opposite there.
Camerota said they had three guiding principals when working on the food and beverage package for the new stadium. First, baseball itself and the nostalgia that comes with the game. Second, Las Vegas and the expectation residents have for excellent food and finally, the Howard Hughes Corporation's passion for having the best in class.
Camerota said her team went on a "hot dog adventure" around the country to find the very best hot dog experience from the cart on the street to the best ballparks.
Eventually, they decided to get local chefs to come up with their own version of the lowly but absolutely iconic ballpark hot dog.
"We had about 18 lunches in two days... and ultimately it was Brian Howard from Sparrow and Wolf," she said, "He created a collection of four hot dogs that we feel not only are they so freaking delicious but they truly represent and celebrate not just where Las Vegas is today as a dining scene but where its headed in the future."
Besides the elevated hot dog, Camerota said celebrity chef Giada de Laurentiis will offer frozé, which is a rosé wine slushy; local brewery Tenaya Creek has created the Aviator Ale, which she says features a "gentle hoppiness" and a "tropical finish"; and the club level will have a rotating lineup of chefs that will change out every weekend.
For those concerned about cost, Camerota said there will be a value-priced meal deal for kids.
"It's only $7. It comes with an all-beef Hebrew National hot dog in a locally made potato bun, apple slices, baked potato chips, and a drink," she said.
The ballpark also integrated into the Downtown Summerlin development, which is already home to restaurants and gaming.
Tom Warden is the senior vice president of community and government relations at Howard Hughes Corporation, which owns the Aviators and Downtown Summerlin.
He said the ballpark has been part of the plan for the area for a number of years. The idea is for it to be a "new urbanist" area where people can live, work and walk to shops and restaurants.
"People are living in that area for the reasons we know they love new urbanism," he said, "They want to be able to walk to all of these wonderful dining opportunities, retail, maybe work in the office that's right there."
Warden said there will be a walkway from the Dining Arroyo area of Downtown Summerlin to the Las Vegas Ballpark, making it easy for people to get pre-game or post-game meal or drink.
Eric Edelstein has seen what a well thought out ballpark can do for a neighborhood. He's the president of the Reno Aces. Ten years ago, during the height of the Great Recession, the Greater Nevada Field was built for the team.
He said it took a bit longer than expected because the impact of the recession was so severe but the field is starting to be the center of a revitalization of the neighborhood.
Edelstein said more than a third of residents in the area have gone to a game in the last year.
"Absolutely, baseball continues to be a very important piece of the Northern Nevada sports culture," he said.
With strong fan support in Northern Nevada and the new fan engagement expected in Southern Nevada, Edelstein expects the sports rivalry between the two ends of the state to be amplified through the minor league teams.
"I think it absolutely will grow," he said, "At the end of the day for a rivalry to really be something, you have to have thriving fan bases and I think in minor league sports the venue leads a lot of what becomes the thriving fan base."
Don Logan, president, Las Vegas Aviators; Eric Edelstein, president, Reno Aces; Tom Warden, The Howard Hughes Corp; Sarah Camerota, hospitality experience curator, Las Vegas Ballpark