Dodgers-51s marriage on rocks


Forget about the proposed name change from the Las Vegas 51s to the Desert Dodgers or some other nickname tied to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After eight seasons, it might be time to say goodbye to the 51s altogether.

The Dodgers' player development contract with the 51s will expire Sept. 30, a date that likely will mark the end of the team's affiliation with Las Vegas. There is a strong possibility the Dodgers will return their affiliate to Albuquerque, N.M., their Triple-A home from 1972 to 2000.

If the Dodgers decide to return to Albuquerque, the Florida Marlins' affiliate could end up in Las Vegas after spending the last six seasons as the Albuquerque Isotopes.

The earliest any of these potential moves can be negotiated is Sept. 18, when major league franchises are free to begin seeking fresh affiliations with minor league clubs.

"We made it very clear to the Dodgers that we want them back," 51s president Don Logan said Tuesday. "But they've been unwilling to make a commitment. They've just not wanted to talk about (renewing the contract), which is probably not a very good indication.

"I think if they were going to renew with us, they would have."

Dodgers executives have said little on the matter. In response to multiple phone calls and e-mails, general manager Ned Colletti said via e-mail, "We are thinking it through and when we make a decision we will let everyone know."

Dodgers director of player development De Jon Watson said Tuesday he "can't speak on anything" until Sept. 18.

Las Vegas' proximity to Los Angeles has been a big plus for the 51s, but probably less so for the Dodgers. Cashman Field is an aging facility that does not satisfy their needs.

Built in 1983, Cashman Field is the third-oldest Triple-A ballpark and lacks the amenities coveted by big league clubs.

"The key thing is the facility," Logan said. "(Albuquerque has) a brand-new, state-of-the-art beautiful ballpark with hitting tunnels, video room, weight room, training facility, -- everything -- that are a lot better than what we have.

"That said, we're a 45-minute plane flight from L.A. There are more Dodgers fans here than for any other team. It just depends on how much they value the facility."

Albuquerque general manager John Traub said he couldn't comment about the Dodgers' possible return and wouldn't say if he planned to renew his club's contract with the Marlins.

"We've had a great relationship with the Marlins," said Traub, a longtime friend of Logan. "(The 51s) are so handcuffed there by their stadium, as far as player development and what Major League Baseball teams look for."

Logan said the 51s have spent close to $1 million in renovations at Cashman Field the past two years, from expanding the clubhouse and training room to adding a batting cage, weight room, new lights, a cooling system in the dugout and new video scoreboard.

Logan said completely renovating the park would cost more than building a new one and believes nothing short of a new stadium will satisfy the Dodgers.

"We know we need to get a state-of-the-art facility," he said. "We've had constant dialogue over the last four or five months with the (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority) and the city, and it's certainly heated up lately."

Logan said a new stadium, which would be part of a larger development in downtown Las Vegas, would cost close to $50 million and be funded by "a public-private partnership."

He hopes to get a ballpark built in time for the 2011 season and said there's "better than a 50-50 chance" for that to happen.

Before the Dodgers delayed their decision on renewing their contract with Las Vegas, the 51s had planned to change their name and color scheme.

The Review-Journal -- which retains an option to purchase part of the team -- conducted an online nickname contest that drew more than 1,000 entries, with the most popular names being the Gamblers, Aces, Stars and Neon.

Besides the 51s and Isotopes, there are only six other Triple-A teams with expiring player development contracts -- Buffalo (Cleveland), Columbus (Washington) and Syracuse (Toronto) of the International League and Memphis (St. Louis), New Orleans (New York Mets) and Tacoma (Seattle) of the Pacific Coast League.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

 

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