Tag Archives: toronto blue jays affiliates’ ballparks

Cashman Field, Las Vegas, Nevada

Cashman Field, Las Vegas, NEVADA

Number of states:  12
States to go:  38

Number of games: 1
First game:  April 6, 2006 (Las Vegas 51s 7, Fresno Grizzlies 2)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

2006 marked my third trip to Las Vegas.  I had been twice earlier for my fantasy football league’s draft (recommended…nothing’s more fun than drafting on a Saturday, then watching all the games at the same time on a Sunday), and as a result, all I had ever experienced of Las Vegas–and, for that matter, of Nevada–was the airport and the

Strip.  A $15 cab ride from the Stratosphere at the north end of the Strip changed all that.  It brought me to Cashman Field and a chilly April opening night for the Las Vegas 51s.  I was quite pleased with what I found there.

First, let me state a point of confusion.  I’m not 100% sure what the name of this place is.  The signs on the outside call it Cashman Stadium, but the 51’s website refers to it as Cashman Field.  The place is obviously in the midst of some terrible identity crisis.  With contradictory information, I’m going to go with “Field.”  The place is fairly small, and therefore feels more like a field than a stadium to me.

The most important part of my ballpark rankings is regional feel.  I want there to be no question where in the U.S. I am when I’m sitting in the stands of a ballpark.  What would that look like in Vegas?  Slots?  Showgirls?  Garish neon?  That’s not exactly a good

thing at a ballpark.  Cashman Field goes another direction:  it provides a quiet oasis from what one normally associates with Las Vegas, and I appreciate that a good deal.  There were very few promotions–which I like when the baseball is AAA-quality.  All we have to tell us we’re in Vegas are a combination of palm trees and desert mountains past the outfield fence.  (Yes, I know that we have palm trees and desert vistas in southern California.  But I know that I’m not in Southern California because I can SEE the mountains here.)

So while “quiet oasis” isn’t exactly what one thinks of when one thinks of Las Vegas, I like the feel and will rank it high in the “regional feel” category.  When I’m in Las Vegas, my brain can only handle three days of the sensory overload, and even then, I can get a little overwhelmed by the constant lights and BINGBINGBINGBINGBING sounds of the place.  Surely I’m not the only tourist who feels that way.  Unfortunately, we’ve grown to have almost as much bingbingbing in our ballparks as at a Vegas casino.  When I’m enjoying high-quality AAA baseball, I don’t need it.  Cashman Field recognizes this, and even winks at Vegas’ reputation with a cool “only in Vegas” advertising that rings the inside of the ballpark (things like “We love the night games” and “All hits, all the time.”)  The net result was a positive night at the ballpark.

Architecturally, the place has positives and negatives.  Like all three of the warm-weather ballparks

I visited on this trip, it offers the ability to watch the game while on the concourse buying food (especially welcome for most of the fans on this Thirsty Thursday Dollar Beer night).  I do like being able to motor around the ballpark without sacrificing my ability to score the game.  There are grassy hill areas by both foul poles, but there is no trespassing on the grass.  When I was there, I thought that was a shame, because I was picturing that being a nice place to picnic on gorgeous desert summer nights…but then, the next night in Lake Elsinore, I realized they were actually just preventing eight-year-old boys from beating the crap out of each other, a common activity on such hills.  On the negative side, its setting is well north of the strip and downtown, and it adjoins a convention center and some sort of museum, which makes it a little nondescript.  There’s nothing interesting about its external architecture.  Although I like the combination of tans and reds, Cashman Field’s connection to other buildings takes away any interest in its footprint (and makes my traditional pregame hike-around-the-ballpark a lot more taxing and arduous, especially on the bum knee I lugged along).  In the no-excuses department, I was really disappointed to find a prodigious amount of trash in the front row upon my arrival at the park.  This was opening day!  I guess they hadn’t bothered fully cleaning up since the last event there, which I believe was a major league tune-up at least four days prior.

Cashman Field has the kind of history-of-baseball-in-the-area stuff I like on its concourse, but they do some things that make it not as nice as it is in places where it’s done well (like Wichita or Spokane).  They have a number of past greats for the Las Vegas Stars and other minor league ballclubs from the city, which I enjoyed, especially because I had not heard

of so many of the ballplayers, such as Paul Faries.  They had Dodgers history mapped out as well.  Even though the 51s are a Dodger affiliate, I didn’t care for these.  I love Jackie Robinson and all, but because his story does not involve Las Vegas, his tribute seemed out of place.  And it certainly seemed out of place when their walk of fame also featured famous movie aliens.  Yes, that’s right…Tommy Lasorda is in the Hall of Fame with Jabba the Hut.  I’m all for wackiness, but this has all the markings of a ballclub and stadium that is simply trying too hard.  Ease up, guys.  This sort of stuff is out of character for a ballpark where, for the most part, they let the baseball be the star.

Speaking of trying too hard, let’s talk for a second about the nickname

of 51s and the mascot:  Hate them.  I never, ever, want marketing to be so stinking obvious.  Sure, I guess we could argue that the nickname is locally appropriate, but I don’t think that was the primary reason for its selection.  It’s clear to me that the primary reason that the name was changed to 51s was to increase the number of fuzzy items that would be sold, as well as hats, etc.  The alien they have on their hat isn’t even intimidating looking (like the guys from Independence Day).  He looks wise and friendly (like E.T.).  Don’t get me wrong:  I loved E.T., and cried when I first saw it at age 12.  But puh-leez.  What’s on a hat should be something that shows pride, tradition, or elicits intimidation.  The 51s go oh-for-three in that regard.

Opening Day 2006 in the minors meant there were replacement umpires on the field.  The minor league umpires, after not enjoying a pay raise in nearly a decade, were given an offer whose

miniscule pay raise was almost entirely counteracted by raises in their health insurance deductible.  When they struck to get a fair deal, Minor League Baseball decided to recruit replacement/scab umpires.  News accounts said that the replacement umpires were recruited from college, high school, and even Little League.

This was the background for a fascinating conversation I overheard.  A young guy in the stands came down to the front row during warmups and called some 51s player over.  He was a striking ump.  The players were very friendly and supportive; I think they were worried about what they’d see in the replacements. Also, many of them had likely risen through the minors alongside these umps.  The players asked what they could do to help the umps.  The ump said “Don’t go crazy, but if you could make it clear you don’t like a call, that’d help a lot.”  Sure enough, there was an ejection that day…a Fresno player got run for arguing a called third strike.  I feel like I know why.

This night also marked the first time my travels overlapped with the travels of someone else trying to make it to all the ballparks.  I met Doug and Carrie.  They’re a married couple

who were actually ahead of me in the quest to get to a minor league game in all fifty states!  They had a little bit of an advantage in that both of them are in the military, so their jobs have brought them within driving distance of a lot more ballparks than most people.  We enjoyed a long stretch of very nice conversation about ballparks.  I liked Cashman Field a lot more than they did, as it turns out.  We talked about major league parks we both have liked through the years–San Francisco, Kansas City, Boston.  Carrie helped me with some missed scoring decisions.  We were headed in opposite directions:  I had just come from San Diego the night before, and they were on their way there the next night.  Still, our paths crossed on this night, and I do hope they cross again.  Guys, drop me an email if you’re ever headed up to the Pacific Northwest.  Tacoma, Safeco, Everett, Portland, Salem…I’d love to join you.  The pretzels are on me.

So, on the whole, a nice quiet night at a place where the baseball was in the foreground.  It wasn’t a perfect ballpark, but on the whole, I felt like the 51s understood what a night at the ballpark should be about.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8/10
I’m going against the grain on this one.  The ballpark was not much at all what I picture Las Vegas to be, except for the lovely desert mountain views.  But that’s what I liked about it, actually, so that’s why I give it a high score here.  If Vegas is a desert of noise, this place was an oasis of quiet baseball.

Charm:  2.5/5
Occasionally overblown in this department.

Spectacle: 4/5
Very few promotions, which I like for AAA ball, but still enough appropriate distraction if that’s what one likes.

Team mascot/name:  1/5


Cosmo and me.  Don’t like the name at all–never let your marketing be so transparent.  And this guy is goofy-looking.

Aesthetics:  3/5
The park itself is a bit dumpy, but the mountain views are lovely.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Scoreability:  3.5/5
Missed a key scoring decision, and the scoreboard guy was a hair slow at times.

Fans:  2/5
This part was bizarre.  Perhaps most surprisingly, most of the fans around me weren’t from Las Vegas.  Not at all surprisingly, most of the fans on Dollar Beer Night were smashed and idiotic.  Doug and Carrie actually brought this score up a point.

Intangibles:  5/5
I just kept enjoying how quiet it was, and what a nice break it was from the bingbingbing.

TOTAL:  32.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Grizzlies’ Brad Hennessey gives up 7 runs, but only 1 of them is earned due to 2 errors by his teammate Tomas de la Rosa’s 2 errors.

Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia

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Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia

Number of states:  still 8 (but one province!)
States to go:  42
Number of games: 1
First game: August 29, 2004 (Everett AquaSox 5, Vancouver Canadians 3)

I had purchased the engagement ring about ten days earlier.  It had been sitting in my sock drawer.  Michelle The Girlfriend and I had been together for about two and a half years, and I was getting tired of her being merely at Girlfriend status.  Indeed, I had considered popping the question to her on our trip earlier that summer to the Oregon Coast–the Second Annual Paul and Michelle Minor League Trip, which included Tacoma, Eugene, and Portland.  But I wasn’t quite ready then.  Indeed, while sitting across the table from her at Mo’s Restaurant in Newport, Oregon, I confessed that I had thought about popping the question to her, but wasn’t quite ready.  Did she cry?  Get bitchy?  Nope.  She just gave a half smile and said something like “Whatever.”  She understood my need to, as she put it, “look at it from 20 different angles and upside-down before making a decision.”  If anything, that assured I’d get that ring–she was breathtakingly patient with me and very understanding of–and even fond of–my quirks. So it didn’t take long.  And on August 29, 2004, the day before school began, the day when we went to Nat Bailey Stadium–this would be the day I asked.

At some point early in our relationship, long before marriage had crossed our minds in any serious way, Michelle had warned me:  if I dared propose at a sporting event, she would walk out of said sporting event and I’d never see her again.  That works for me. 

I’m fairly into my private intimate moments being both private and intimate, and not public like the guy I saw propose to his girlfriend at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia, NY. So I knew the rules.  But when I think of Michelle and our best moments, they usually involve random road trips, baseball, and hanging out.  In fact, in honor of this, I gave Michelle a birthday card that year that said something like:  “We need to go bowling in Canada…[open card]…That way we can always talk about how fun it was that time we went bowling in Canada.”  Michelle repeatedly mentioned that card in the months following her birthday and the need to bowl in Canada.  So that set up our weekend road trip:  wake up early, put the ring in my jeans pocket while Michelle wasn’t looking, find a bowling alley south of Vancouver that would be open at 10AM on a Sunday (Michelle, trip-planner extraordinaire did that), and then zip up to Nat Bailey Stadium to catch a critical matchup between Everett and Vancouver, who were battling for the Western Division title.  After that…well…I had plans.

Michelle beat me at bowling.  That says more about my bowling abilities than about hers.  (Sorry, babe.)

How good a ballpark was Nat Bailey Stadium?  Good enough to make me forget

the stresses of the day.  I even stopped feeling in my pocket for the ring.  At first, before arriving, I thought the ballpark’s location was a bit unfortunate…it’s within Vancouver’s city limits, but very much a suburban spot.  However, I was won over when I got there.  The stadium is wedged between Queen Elizabeth Park, which provides for lovely views past the outfield wall of dog-walkers headed through the trees, and Hillcrest Park, which featured a nice, large, friendly pickup soccer match for the locals and a spiral slide for Michelle.  A lovely place to be.

Nat Bailey Stadium has as nice an atmosphere and as respectful an attitude towards its past as any ballpark I’ve ever been to.  This is best exemplified in its pavilion area.  I’m usually not thrilled with a cementy area under the bleachers, completely devoid of any natural light.  But at Nat Bailey Stadium, the pictures, exhibits, and history on display made the pavilion into a place I could have spent hours.  I had just finished reading Ball Four when I made it to Vancouver, so I wanted to see the 1969 Vancouver Mounties photo.  Sure enough, there it was, featuring many of the people Jim Bouton described in his book.  There were a number of newspaper accounts of key games from Nat Bailey stadium in the past, most notably a piece about an appearance Babe Ruth made there.  (Or was it Mickey Mantle?  I had a lot on my mind that day and could be remembering it wrong.  I do think it was Ruth, though.)  I’m enough of a nerd that I most enjoyed an article featuring Hilly Hathaway, whom I saw get one of his four major league wins.  I just loved meandering around that place, reading the articles covering baseball over the past many years.  It reminded me of Wichita and Spokane, two other places whose pavilion areas were de facto museums of local baseball history.  All minor league parks should have something like it.

Michelle and I parked ourselves in the front row, just short of Vancouver’s dugout.  It turned out we

were seated only a few feet away from Vancouver’s coaches.  This meant I got to hear umpire/coach conversation, and, as a sports official, I thoroughly enjoy this.  Today was better than most.

Vancouver’s pitching coach, I was pleased to see, was Craig Lefferts, whom I remember totally owning my ’84 Tigers in the World Series.  He looks like he’s still in awfully good shape, and as good a pitcher as he was and as long as he stuck around, I think that the pitchers in the Oakland system are fortunate to have him.  He seemed to be a good-natured guy, holding conversations with the fans behind the dugout in an easygoing manner that led me to believe that he had talked to these folks every game.  I even got to hear him politely–but firmly–yell at the home plate umpire about a pitch he felt caught the corner.  The conversation

went something like this:

CRAIG LEFFERTS:  Where was that, blue?!!
HOME PLATE UMPIRE (removing his mask):  I don’t want to hear it!
CL:  My catcher didn’t even move his glove!
HPU:  I’m right here, and you’re way over there!  You can’t see it!
CL:  I know my catcher wouldn’t set up off the plate!

As I see it, the umpire here was being a little bit of a hothead…Lefferts’ questions/complaints aren’t exactly rude, and hardly merited the removal of a mask and the subsequent hollering.  Lefferts hadn’t said anything all day prior to that.  But then, it had been a long season…maybe there had been previous encounters I don’t know about.

A little more interesting to me was the batting coach, Todd Steverson.  In looking at his career, he seems to mirror Billy Beane–the first-round pick with loads of promise who never quite makes it.  Perhaps that explains Todd’s behavior on this day–maybe he has a bit of a chip

on his shoulder, because in the fourth inning, he got tossed.  The play was a double-play call against the Canadians.  Steverson felt that the pitcher, who was finishing off a 3-6-1 double play, was pulled off the bag by the throw.  From my angle, he was thrown off the bag, but landed on it again before the batter, Landon Powell, got there.  Good call, Blue.  But Steverson had a fascinating way of arguing.  Did he say:  “No!  He was pulled off the bag!”  Nope.  Did he say:  “Oh, you blew that one!”  Nope.  Steverson immediately started shouting–and repeating three times!–the following complaint:  “You suck, Blue!  You suck!  You suck!”  What the hell is that?  That’s terribly juvenile behavior…Steverson is living down to the stereotype of ballplayers with that kind of garbage.  And what’s more, it’s not even clever!  It’s fourth-grade level.  If you’re going to bitch and moan, at least be creative about it.  Or, to put it in a way that Mr. Steverson might more easily understand:  You suck, Steverson.  A very rare combination of immature, whiny, and lame!  Anyway, back to the game.  The second base umpire rightly tossed Steverson, who then ran out onto the field to get his last complaints in before leaving.  The only problem with the base umpire, as I see it, is that he was smiling when he ejected Steverson.  To me, that betrays a little weakness…he’d have done better to have stayed poker-faced.

I cannot locate the names of either umpire for that game, but here’s my prediction:  out of these four main characters (Lefferts, Steverson, and the two umpires), only Lefferts will make it to the majors as a coach or umpire.

More about the ballpark:  It is unabashedly minor league in so many ways…encountering ballplayers making phone calls in the pavilion (probably expensive to make an international cell phone call), loads of promotions, a between-innings archery exhibition…it was nicely put together.  A good day of entertainment.  I insist that Canadians are more polite than Americans, and that this leads to a sweet atmosphere at the ballpark–and it means that even a large city like Vancouver can have a

small-towny feel to it.  I even felt like the font of the concession stand lettering had a retro feel to it, making me feel like I was in a ballpark in the early ’50s.  Does that make any sense?  I especially enjoyed the foresty views of Queen Elizabeth Park.  They seem to have everything I like in a ballpark.  On my visit, there were flyers being past around that said something like “Save Nat Bailey Stadium.”  I hope they succeed.  This is an old place, but clearly a loved and lovable place, and one of the better minor league ballparks I’ve ever seen.  I’d like to see it stay.

Michelle and I head home.  This is the Sunday night before school starts and I have to abandon Michelle for nine more months while I tackle student essays.  I tell her I’d like to go out to eat.  I try to very calmly say “where would you like to go?”  She says I get to decide.  I tell her I’d like to go to the Five Spot restaurant, which is where we had our first date.  I stop at a rest area and sneak off to make a phone call without her knowing.  I ask the guy at the restaurant to set aside the table where we met on our first date.  He does.  I think I’m being all suave, but Michelle insists she knew what I was up to.  She thinks I suggest the Five Spot a bit too eagerly.  She even thinks (she later tells me) she sees me checking my pocket for something…I know it wasn’t the ring, it was a cell phone, but Michelle thinks it’s the ring.  I spend the three hour drive home thinking about the best times I’ve had with this woman–many of them at ballparks, many of them documented here.  It seems appropriate that I should ask Michelle to marry me after a ballgame.  I’m happy and excited–not really scared-nervous, but psyched-nervous.  We get to the restaurant.  The table is ours.  I order my dinner.  I ask for an entire pitcher of water (Michelle later says this was a CERTAIN giveaway of my plans.)  I tell her that this is where it all started between us, and that this is where I’d like to start something else.  I produce the ring and set it on the table.

At that moment, an unfortunate waitress happens to set Michelle’s Diet Coke next to her.  I say “Will you marry me?”  The waitress literally runs away.

Michelle The Girlfriend became Michelle The Fiancée at that moment.

Man, but I love baseball.  And I love this exceedingly cool woman who accompanies me to games even more.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
For one thing, the ballpark is in the middle of The Queen’s Park–so I know I’m in Canada.  The suburban location isn’t perfect, but once inside, there’s not a question I’m in Canada…just enough maple leaves and Canadian promotions to push this score high.

Charm:  5/5
Very much so.  There’s something sort of your-father’s-baseball-park charming about the whole place.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
A bit calm, which I usually like, but my short-season-A ball can be a little more frenetic between innings.

Team mascot/name: 2.5/5
The name is fine, if a little generic.  No mascot.

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Absolutely lovely throughout.

Pavilion area: 5/5
Absolutely fantastic.  Ex-Canadians’ pictures on the wall, old newspaper clippings, and old team photos intermingle with old-timey concession stands…I could have spent the whole down in the tunnel.  You know I like a pavilion if it’s not open-air and I give it a perfect score.

Scoreability:  4/5
No problems here.

Fans:  3.5/5
They seemed to be nice people, and close friends with Craig Lefferts, who talked to them throughout the game.  Not too many of them, though.

Intangibles:  5/5
A beautiful ballpark with a sense of charm and history.  Plus, I’ll always associate it with getting engaged later that night.

TOTAL:  41.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Everett’s Brandon Green had the key hit, a two-run game-untying single in the eighth inning off pitcher Adiel Sanchez’s leg and into right field.

The Canadians couldn’t solve Aaron Trolia’s pitching…he shut down Vancouver for 6 1/3.

Mark Lowe came on to get the save.