Las Vegas Ballpark, Summerlin, NEVADA
Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12
First game: July 12, 2019 (Salt Lake Bees 10, Las Vegas Aviators 7)
(Click on any photo to see a full-sized version.)
We encountered Las Vegas Ballpark on our huge National Park Tour in 2019, as it was between Sequoia and the Grand Canyon. (Quoth 10-year-old Steven: “Las Vegas is really a National Park, isn’t it?” Yes, Steven–it is.) Plus, Vegas is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me.
I don’t drink or do drugs or womanize, but the gambling is a vice I enjoy: the most likely way I will wind up face-down in a gutter someday (so far, I’ve managed it fine).
Las Vegas with kids is a bit of a different experience from Las Vegas without kids. For starters, we drove in along I-15, and the billboards as we approached were a bit intriguing to our 8- and 10-year-olds.
“Dad, what’s a strip club?”
“Well, Steven, it’s a place where people pay money to watch people dance and take their clothes off.”
[Pause.] [Umbrage.] [Horror.] “Dad, what is WRONG with people? Who would ever want to do that?”
Noted. Still latent.
After an afternoon engaging in “baby gambling”” at Circus Circus, we headed across town to the planned suburb of Summerlin to go to the brand-new ballpark. And while I was worried this might be part of the recent disease of suburban flight among ballparks (I’m looking at you, Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves). But this didn’t feel like a suburb. This felt like Vegas due to a number of deliberate choices the ballpark people made, and the result was a delight.
For starters, let’s discuss the name: Las Vegas Ballpark. I thought it was a misnomer, since the team moved from run-down Cashman Field (which was actually in Las Vegas) to Summerlin. But it’s not. It’s corporate naming. The naming rights for the ballpark
were bought by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and so they paid
to slap the city’s name on the ballpark. They want people to visit the city, obviously.
And this place therefore had many touches that allowed it to pass the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. While the Strip isn’t visible from the park, the Red Rock Casino and hotel looms over the park, with its immaculately shining
orange-ish windows. Look out past right field and we have a set of palm trees in a row, not unlike along Las Vegas Boulevard on the way into the city from the southwest. And then there’s the bar in right field. Yeah, I know that ballparks have bars. But I suspect none of these were quite as nice as this
bar. Teetotaling me wouldn’t partake, but this was fully stocked with absolutely everything, as I think any bar in Vegas should be, ballpark or no ballpark.
Which brings me to my favorite part of the ballpark: the lounge chairs.
This is the only ballpark I’ve ever been to that had lounge chairs as a part of the park that anyone could sit in. Both in the bar in center field, or by the right field foul pole, there are tons of chairs that one can sit in with their drink or whatever, overlooking the pool, or the ping-pong tables, or the baseball game. As in the rest of Las Vegas, watching people is just as fun as watching the show, and that’s an option.
This leads to a conundrum I face with scoring the park. On the one hand, for high-quality
AAA baseball, I’d like there to be less distraction. But here, there are TONS of distractions, with wacky promotions on the field at pretty much ever inning break. Typically, I’m not a fan of this. But in gaudy Vegas, visual stimulation and tons of shows is exactly what the town is about.
So I have mixed views in this place.
Appropriately, a man behind us tried to start a massive betting pool on whether the throw the home plate umpire tossed to the mound between innings settled on the mound or off of it. I’ve seen this played before: it’s called Moundball. But I have never seen it so enthusiastically advocated for at a ballpark as this man behind me did. Rather than the usual two choices (on the mound or off of it), our guy wanted to set up lines for quadrants around the mound. Did the ball settle in the front left off the mound? Front right? Back center? No thanks: not gonna play. Neither would anyone else around us. And this annoyed our friend, who insisted that at any other ballpark he could get people to lay their money down on the umpire’s throw.
This got our section talking to each other, and we met some cool people who had moved to Vegas from various other parts of the country (this is true of most Vegas residents), and who were interested in my past travels as well as our current trip. And we nearly got everyone going on one more bet.
See, my kids were picked for the tricycle race.
Right before the game, a pair of lovely young women asked my kids if they wanted to do the tricycle race after the 8th inning. My boys enthusiastically assented. And this set up an interesting question. My older kid is bigger and stronger than the younger one, but the younger one spends at least some of his time riding his bike-with-training wheels (the older one doesn’t care to ride). Oddsmakers would likely set this up at even money. The people around us agreed (although no money changed hands).
In the eighth inning, we headed up to the concourse to meet
with some other people. Once there, we encountered a pair of sisters roughly my kids’ age.
“Are you here for the bicycle race?” Aaron asked them.
Yes they were. And they were excited. And they really wanted to win because they had a victory dance already choreographed.
That there, my friends, is bulletin board material.
So I started talking to my guys about how they would have to figure out how to work together, since this was clearly a team event rather than the individual event we were anticipating. Steven insisted he did NOT want to work with his brother. I said he might have to.
But then the game operations people came. Turns out there were three pairs: an additional pair of brothers arrived.
“Okay,” said the game ops person. “So you two are together, and you two…”
“NO!” Steven shouted. “I do NOT want to be on a team with my brother!”
Fair enough, the game ops guy said. He split the brother pairs and put my son with the older brother. This was a kid about his age. He had the look of the MVP of his Little League team, and I think he figured he had this in the bag.
Leadership. Excellence. He turned to Steven and gave him a high-five.
While I do not take joy in the disappointments and emotionally-rough moments of children, I do have to say that what happened next was simply fantastic and amazing and hilarious.
Little League MVP was ready. He asked Steven, “So, are you fast?”
“Actually, I don’t know how to ride a bike,” my son answered.
I watched this kid’s face as he processed this. He was about to get in a tricycle race, and his partner, rather than his athletic younger brother, was a kid who did not know how to ride a bike. His expression went from confusion, to anger, to trying-to-be-supportive, back to something like annoyance.
Well, the race was a hot mess anyway. Half of the kids were told that the second leg would be heading back towards the left-field foul pole, and half of the kids were told they would keep heading down towards home plate. Aaron’s legs were too short to reach the pedals, so a worker wound up pushing him to the exchange point. Steven decided to run next to his tricycle instead of riding it.
“Nobody said we had to ride it,” he said, working a loophole in the rules. In the end, only Aaron’s team went the right direction, and out of the pandemonium, he got the win (unless that aid given by the MC was illegal). None of this mattered, of course, since everyone got a pack of baseball cards as a participation trophy, but still, neither participants nor referees nor audience knew what was up.
I guess it’s fair to say that’s my feeling about Las Vegas in general. And in the end, this was a tremendous night: really good baseball in front of a happy, packed house that was enjoying the kind of warmth that only happens in a desert after dark.
Vegas, baby. Tons of fun. The kind of thing that I’d enjoy doing as a part of my next Vegas journey. They managed to get this one totally right.
REGIONAL FEEL: 9/10.
All of the wacky weirdness of Vegas was on display here. Loved this: loved the casinos and the lawn chairs and the de facto ring girls running the promotions.
Vegas is “charming” in its own way. I can’t give it a perfect score, because kitsch isn’t the same as charm, but this still worked.
TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 4.5/5
Loved this new mascot (great upgrade on the 51s). This guy’s name is Aviator. Not pictured is Spruce. I don’t know the whole history of aviation in Las Vegas, but I trust it’s there.
In a way, these were fantastic. A little anarchic, but excellent. In other ways, I think they did too much. I’d rather a few really good promotions than the constant confusing action they gave.
I was taken aback by how beautiful and gleaming this place was.
Not much going on in the history department, and there were spots beyond the left-field wall that were dull, but good beyond that.
Loved all the detail they offered. Needed some scoring decisions, however.
Some were quite nice. Some were a bit obnoxious. Most left early and missed a crazy ending.
A little hot, and a little busy. But man, this place was fun, and we got an awesome game to boot.
BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:
The Bees come back from several deficits, relying on a few home runs. When down to their final strike in the 9th, trailing 8-6, Jared Walsh blasted his second homer of the night way past anything in right field to give the Bees a 9-7 lead. They added one more and had a one-two-three bottom of the ninth for the win.
Jose Rojas raked for the Bees, with a double and a homer.
Eric Campbell hits a three-run dinger for the Aviators. Sheldon Neuse drives in three using a double and a single.
Written August 2019.