After minor league baseball took a year hiatus because of the pandemic, the Aviators are set to make their season debut Thursday at home against the Sacramento River Cats.
This will be the first of a six-game series against the River Cats and the first game the Aviators will play at Las Vegas Ballpark since 2019.
Teams this year will play as six-game series’ and take place Thursdays through Tuesdays with 60 games each at home and on the road for a 120-game season.
Also, the Pacific Coast League is no more with Major League Baseball taking over the minors and restructuring the leagues while eliminating 40 teams. The Aviators are now in the Triple-A West league.
The implementation of the six-game series’ and seeing the same opponent will surely add some chippiness to the field. However, Aviators team manager Fran Riordan does not seem too concerned.
“It’s the first thing that people talk about when they hear about the six-game series. When’s the first brawl going to happen or who’s going to throw at the first person for doing something silly.” Riordan said. “Nobody wants to see that. Nobody wants to see bad blood. People want to see good baseball.”
The Aviators’ roster is littered with players who could push for call-ups. They lead all A’s affiliates in top-30 prospects with nine. That includes four players that are in the organization’s top 15.
However, they will begin the season without top-rated pitcher Daulton Jefferies who has been dealing with bicep tendinitis.
Jefferies missed out on a roster spot with the A’s, but the potential is there for a promotion. There is no timeline for his return but expect the Aviators to be without him for most of May.
Other Aviators top prospects include pitchers and former first-round picks James Kaprielian and Grant Holmes, and outfielder Greg Deichmann.
Deichmann was a second-round pick but has had a roller coaster pro career. However, he has potential after nine homers in the Arizona Fall League in 2019.
There are some players with some MLB experience on the roster. Veteran pitcher Paul Blackburn cleared waivers in February and returned to the A’s. The A’s also signed former Angels reliever Cam Bedrosian to a minor-league deal last week.
That said, this is not the same roster that was breaking home run records in 2019.
“We don’t have as much team speed as we did in 2019,” Riordan said. “I don’t know if we have (as much) power as we did in 2019.
“I think it’s gonna be a pretty complete team and I know that it’s gonna be an aggressive brand of baseball. We’re going to do our best to put on a show for the fans every night.”
In theory, this will enhance player safety, prevent runner’s momentum from carrying them through the bag, and potentially lead to more stolen bases and infield hits.
“We have not practiced with the 18-inch bases yet,” Riordan said. “If it does actually work to reduce injuries, make the game more exciting and make it a little more plausible to steal bases then I think it will be a good change. Thankfully, I don’t think it will be a change that fans recognize. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.”
Fans also will be returning to Las Vegas Ballpark. Attendance will be allowed at 50 percent capacity this month, which means 5,000 fans will be able to attend each game of the homestand.
“It’s just a really good feeling to get back to Summerlin and get back to the Las Vegas Ball Park,” Riordan said. “We’re starting a new season that means something in two days.
“That means a lot to the coaches, the players, the front office, and the fans of Las Vegas.”
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What to expect at Las Vegas Ballpark
— Face coverings required except when eating or drinking.
— Hand sanitizers throughout the stadium.
— Monitors stationed at concession stands and restrooms to ensure some sort of safe distance, and reminders announced throughout the game.
— Concession-stand offerings scaled back from two years ago when the ballpark last opened.
— No fan contact with Aviators players, coaching staff and trainers.