The 51s returned to Cashman Field to open a homestand against Tacoma on Monday, and it must have surprised fans watching for the first time this season to discover the broken glass had been removed from the infield. And that second base actually was a base, instead of a flattened beer can.
Look, I think a lot of people around here agree it would be nice if the 51s had a new ballpark, provided the lot of people aren’t asked to pay for it with their tax dollars. But it’s not as if the ballyard the 51s are stuck with in the interim is some dusty sandlot in the Dominican Republic.
A recent story in the Wall Street Journal, which apparently has replaced The Sporting News as “The Baseball Bible,” did not compare Cashman to a sandlot on the outskirts of Santo Domingo or Bajos de Haina, where the Alou brothers are from. It did say Cashman was a “dilapidated ballpark.” It quoted some of the 51s as saying it was the worst place in the world to pitch.
It said it also was a terrible place to field ground balls, because the infield is so dry that routine grounders skip through for singles. And that the air is so thin, routine cans o’ corn carry for home runs. It did not, however, quote any guys hitting .290 with a dozen dingers saying those are bad things.
And, as was pointed out by colleague John L. Smith, top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler complained of having to pitch with dry balls.
“It’s ridiculous how dry the balls are,” Wheeler told the WSJ. “It’s hard to get a good grip on it.”
It’s funny how the Sacramento River Cats pitchers usually don’t have a problem getting a grip on it.
Former 51s manager Marty Brown complained of having to water the field himself. And then in the next sentence he complained of sprinklers turning on during the ninth inning. So which is it Skip? Too dry or too wet?
“Those things happen there,” Brown said.
Yeah. They happened once.
And no harangue of Cashman Field would be complete without haranguing about the outdoor batting cage. The WSJ said the 51s actually have to leave the ballpark to take batting practice in the outdoor cage alongside the parking lot.
It did not say that leaving the ballpark means opening the door to the clubhouse, turning left, and walking a grand total of about 200 feet. It did say that sometimes when the players and their camels complete the journey, it is 100 degrees outside.
Something to ponder: Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average was .366, and he took batting practice only outside, and there were times it must have been bitterly cold in Detroit, or 95 degrees in summertime with 95-percent relative humidity.
Another thing to ponder: It’s a good thing they didn’t have climate-controlled batting cages back in the day or Cy Young might have won only 411 games instead of 511.
After blasting the condition of Cashman Field, the Wall Street Journal blasted the condition of the Mets farm system. Perhaps that was its agenda all along, and Cashman Field and those responsible for its upkeep simply became collateral damage.
To paraphrase what war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote during the London Blitz, 51s executive vice president Don Logan was among those who felt the shake from the guns.
“I don’t complain, because it doesn’t do any good,” Logan was quoted in the story.
He said that was taken out of context, that he was speaking only of the climate as it pertains to the players.
“The LVCVA has done a great job, they’re a great landlord to work with,” Logan said in clarifying his remarks. “The place is clean, the place is safe, the things they can control, they do a great job with.
“I think everybody knows we need a new ballpark, but this is what we’ve got. We might as well make the most of it.”
Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey III was even more pointed.
“This is a travesty to the efforts of (LVCVA president) Rossi Ralenkotter, who not only has been a great landlord, but the truest friend we have in Las Vegas,” Rickey said, speaking of the 51s’ ability to carve out an entertainment niche in a city rife with them.
After finishing next-to-last in attendance the past three seasons, the 51s rank eighth in the 16-team PCL this season with an average of 5,456 for 28 dates.
“They’ve gone to great lengths to make Cashman work again and again,” Rickey said. “A lot of that is flat-out Rossi.”
As for the players flat-out griping about the heat and the rarefied air and the speedy infield and the price of a beer on The Strip, it should be noted that Phoenix has an arid climate, too, and they mostly leave the dome open at night down there.
The Diamondbacks are in first place in the National League West, and Patrick Corbin is 9-0 with a 1.98 ERA. He’s been pitching pretty well with dry balls.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.