Before a mascot’s jetpack entrance out of center field, a fighter jet flyover and the first pitch at the Las Vegas Aviators’ new stadium, three women sat alone outside the home plate entrance.
Construction crews were putting the finishing touches on the Las Vegas Ballpark’s exterior about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday when a stadium employee noticed the trio outside the gate.
“You know gates don’t open until 5, right?” she asked them.
One of the three, 54-year-old Juli Duffy, who had been waiting outside the ballpark since 1:45 p.m., replied.
“No, it’s 5:30,” she said. “And we know; we just like to get here early because we’re crazy. We love the Aviators.”
Duffy, Carolyn Nice and Nice’s niece, Brooklyn Cougill, were the first in line of the 11,036 fans who flocked to the Triple-A team’s home opener at the new ballpark out in Downtown Summerlin. Fans praised the stadium for its amenities, location and food.
“Just to go from a dirt field to this in one year is unheard of,” said Aaron Williams, attending the game with his family in the right-field berm.
Gov. Steve Sisolak welcomed the crowd before a flight-themed pregame show complete with a fighter jet flyover out of Nellis Air Force Base. David Weinreb, CEO of The Howard Hughes Corp., which owns the team, sang the national anthem, and Henderson 9-year-old Hailey Dawson’s ceremonial first pitch caught the strike zone.
The franchise revealed two new mascots before the game, one in slightly more dramatic fashion. Spruce the Goose introduced itself by prompting fans to flap their wings/arms. Minutes later, a robotic-looking pilot named Mr. Aviator blasted onto the grass from center field using a jetpack.
“When I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh, wow. They’re really putting on a show, huh?’” Williams said. “Vegas has to do everything big.”
His 2-year-old, tutu-clad daughter, Ariana, rolled around on a mat in front of him as the game was underway. Her family had been using it as a blanket to protect from the wind.
“If it wasn’t so windy, the baby would be running around,” her mother, Michelle Williams, joked.
Aaron Williams half-joked that his family might leave early because of the cold. Most fans already had hit the exits by the middle of the game.
But anticipation swelled well before the gates opened to fans. The trio of women outside the stadium were the first in line, but Nice’s 95-year-old mother, Valeria Greene, joined them at 4:45 p.m. and was the first fan allowed into the stadium at the home plate gate.
Greene has attended baseball games in Las Vegas since the team was known as the Stars, and she was often known as “mom” or “grandma” around Cashman, Nice said.
“I just really love it all,” Greene said.
Greene entered the ballpark, and guest services worker Jacqui Magnuson waved to her as if she had seen an old friend. Winds of 30 to 40 mph blew through the concourse as the stadium began to fill with fans, blowing off promotional giveaway hats and whipping around debris.
Minutes after the gates opened, team President Don Logan, beaming, strolled through the concourse. A man passing by shook his hand and said, “Nice digs, Don.”
“That was so cool watching everybody come in and smiling, you know? It’s fulfilling,” Logan said. “It was really surreal. It finally hit me, which was cool.”
Larry Schneiderman, a local baseball coach who said he once coached Oakland Athletics GM David Forst, picked up his 10-year-old son from school to go to the game. They were meeting his family and Schneiderman’s baseball team for the game, and the family plans to attend several more games with their season ticket package.
For Schneiderman, 58, baseball was the draw. For his son, Ethan, it’s taking in the atmosphere, family fun and excitement of a minor league game.
“We just felt that was a great way to spend 18 nights together,” Schneiderman said.