One hundred and fifty-two days after Las Vegas Ballpark opened on a blustery April night, it shut its gates Sunday on a blistering September afternoon.
The Aviators’ first season in their new $150 million stadium ended with a 7-3 loss to the Sacramento River Cats in a winner-take-all Game 5 of their Pacific Coast League semifinal playoff series. It closed a remarkable summer of Las Vegas baseball, as the new Downtown Summerlin landmark and the team that inhabited it set records on and off the field before falling short in the postseason.
“This year was incredible,” right fielder Skye Bolt said. “This place, this facility, it’s unmatched. It’s nothing like anything I’ve played in on the minor league side. This is a big league facility from the training room to the locker room to the weight room.”
The season brought many firsts for the Aviators, who were breaking in a new name, major league affiliation (the Oakland Athletics) and ballpark. They acquitted themselves well in all areas. Las Vegas Ballpark was a critical and commercial success, and the minor-league organization made the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
The stadium, which won numerous ballpark of the year awards by various publications, welcomed a total of 610,967 fans for 70 regular-season and three playoff games. Over the past 36 years in its previous home, Cashman Field, Las Vegas had a yearly average 333,361 fans.
An announced crowd of 5,034 was on hand Sunday. The Aviators trailed early. Starting pitcher James Kaprielian allowed home runs to three of the first five batters he faced. He left in the first inning after allowing four runs and recording two outs.
The River Cats extended their lead to 6-0 in the fifth by scoring two runs off former New York Mets ace Matt Harvey and never looked back. The Aviators scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth, but their final 10 batters went down in order.
“We got behind the eight-ball early in the game, giving up the four spot in the first inning,” said Fran Riordan, the PCL manager of the year. “I thought we were making some headway there in the middle of the game. We just couldn’t come up with that big hit.”
The Aviators season ended with two straight home losses after an 11-4 victory Friday gave them a 2-1 series lead. They scored 26 runs in the first three games of the series but just six in the final two. It didn’t help that Triple-A All-Star shortstop Jorge Mateo had just one plate appearance in the final two games after being hit by a pitch in the first inning Saturday.
“He was missed,” Bolt said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Las Vegas is still searching for its first playoff series win since 1988, but no one seemed willing to complain after the game. Instead, there was reflection on an impressive summer when fans left the ballpark happy more often than not.
“From opening up the new stadium to the energy that (the fans) brought every single night, it was just something that I’ll never forget and something that I’m proud to be a part of,” Riordan said. “There’s really no better place to be in minor league baseball.”
Aviators vs. Sacramento
Game 5: Sacramento, 7-3