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Pacific Coast League president supports 51s’ move to Summerlin

When they open the new $65 million stadium in Nashville, Tenn., next April for the 2015 baseball season, Cashman Field, home of the Las Vegas 51s, will become the second-oldest ballpark in the 16-team Pacific Coast League.

The only PCL ballpark older than Cashman will be Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash. But — and that’s a big but — Cheney Stadium, which is owned by the city of Tacoma, underwent a major modernization in 2011 to meet standards of organized baseball, at a cost of $30 million.

All of which leaves 31-year-old Cashman Field, owned by the city of Las Vegas, as the relic among PCL ballparks.

And when you talk to Branch B. Rickey, president of the Triple-A PCL, you get a pretty good overview of why the new ownership of the 51s is so eager to have a new stadium in Summerlin. Rickey is the grandson of “that” Branch Rickey — the guy who forced the break in major league baseball’s color line by bringing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Rickey was in town recently to get a tour of the proposed site for a new ballpark in Summerlin. The stadium would occupy one corner of a 200-acre “village-in-a-park” kind of development, situated just east of Downtown Summerlin — which is scheduled to open Oct. 9 — and south of Red Rock Resort.

Rickey made it clear he was impressed with the site. He dwelled on the theme, saying, “You’ve got to make it attractive to families and build it in a location that’s safe enough for kids.

“If a ballpark is in a seedy neighborhood, something that’s unsavory, then it doesn’t matter how good your public relations, your promotional giveaways and your concessions are. What I saw in Summerlin looked like it would provide a wonderful environment for Mom and Dad to bring their kids.”

Rickey, who is from Round Rock, Texas, makes it a practice to visit all the PCL ballparks throughout the season. He talked about a new stadium that opened two months ago for the PCL franchise in El Paso, Texas. The cost was $64 million, and like the new ballpark under construction in Nashville and the renovation of the stadium in Tacoma, it was financed by public bonds.

“That new ballpark in El Paso is magnificent,” he said. “The people there love it. They sold out seven of the first eight games.”

Cashman Field cost Las Vegas $24 million to build in 1983. City officials are opposed to paying for a new stadium in Summerlin, despite the fact that The Howard Hughes Corp. would contribute the land, which it values at $40 million. Hughes and local investors Steve Mack, Bart Wear and Chris Kaempfer bought the 51s a year ago.

Technically, the stadium in Summerlin would not be located in Las Vegas. It would be just over the line in unincorporated Clark County. But almost all of those who would be employed in the ballpark, as well as the construction workers and other employees in the overall 200-acre development, would be residents of the city.

Rickey explained why most older stadiums in organized baseball are being torn down: “When they were constructed, the plan was to have them in optimal locations. But 30 or 40 years later, those neighborhoods have become less than desirable. And that has become one of the major problems, especially in minor league baseball.”

Emphasizing that minor league baseball is a family spectator sport, Rickey talked about the need for “a stadium environment that’s safe for kids, and that would exist in Summerlin.”

He was not openly critical of Cashman Field, although the neighborhood, combined with a stadium that lacks many basic amenities, are major reasons why the 51s’ ownership desires to relocate.

“The thumbnail question about any ballpark really is this,” said Rickey, “Would you want to take your kids there?”

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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