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New CEO exhales enthusiasm, optimism

The beer lines were almost three dozen folks deep along both baselines as buxom barkeeps of brew worked flying hand over shuffling fist to get fans their suds.

Hard to believe, but theirs was the easy job this night.

As Southern Nevada rekindled its annual April-to-September romance with minor league baseball Thursday night, the toughest task at Cashman Field belonged to harried ticket sellers who still were working through 1,000 or so fans late into the second inning of an Opening Night — and beloved Beer Night — game against the Salt Lake Bees.

That’s when Derek Stevens came trotting in from the bullpen. In a black pinstriped suit, no less.

The CEO of the Stevens Family Trust, the collective first-year owner of the 51s, joined longtime general manager Don Logan in an auxiliary ticket booth to help get fans into the stadium as quickly as possible.

No better way for a new owner to greet his team’s fan base, that’s for sure.

"It was nuts, but it was a good kind of nuts," Stevens said of the experience. "I got to meet a lot of people. But you couldn’t spend too much time with anyone because there were people behind them waiting to get in. It was a blur."

If you’re a regular attendee of 51s games, you’ll most likely get your chance to meet Stevens, the smiling, 40-year-old face of the new ownership group.

Before he was sent running to the ticket booth — "I was sweating through my jacket," he said of his work alongside veteran baseball man Logan — Stevens was walking through the stadium early Thursday night, shaking hands with early arrivers and game-day workers.

He’ll be back at it most home games. Stevens feeds off the enthusiasm of fans, off the enthusiasm of a city that he says has so much going for it — even if it doesn’t always remember it.

Stevens comes from Detroit, where his family’s riches were made in auto parts manufacturing. While he wore a white collar on his first night with the 51s, he’s very much blue-collar.

"I’ve been coming here for more than 20 years now, and Las Vegas is a good town. It has so much going for it," said Stevens, who exhales optimism at a time when much of our city’s population is inhaling pessimism. "I look at Saginaw and Flint (Mich.), where there are 80 percent fewer jobs than there were 15 years ago. Las Vegas is the opposite of that. There’s so much to tap into.

"This is a town where virtually anything is possible, if you work at it hard enough."

Which means Stevens won’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to improve the city’s Pacific Coast League product.

What a change from the prior ownership of Mandalay Sports, whose hierarchy, when in town, would turn a corner of Cashman’s club level restaurant into its personal ivory tower. Shake hands with the fans? Listen to the thoughts of those people who kept their franchise financially sound? Not those folks. No, sir.

Stevens, meanwhile, wants to get "everyone fired up" about the city’s baseball franchise, now in its 26th season. While much has been made over the past two weeks about the ownership’s plans to change the franchise’s alien-themed nickname next year, Stevens believes it’s important to look beyond something so simple.

"There’s going to be a lot of discussion about what we can and should do to make things better for the 51s," Stevens said. "There’s definitely a reason why baseball works here, and has worked here for years. Look at the people here tonight, and you can tell the love is definitely there. We have to keep building upon that."

Stevens is certain to hear many different ideas, based upon the wide variety of fans in the crowd of 6,785 who saw the 51s relief pitching break down in the ninth inning of a 6-3 loss.

Baseball continues to have broad appeal, from old-timers who still put pencil to scorecards, to young adults who play air guitar during a heavy-metal version of the national anthem.

But a base hit and a beer is all it takes to bridge the generation gap at the ballpark.

"Maybe our most important task is finding a way to get fans a cold beer when they want it … not an inning later," Stevens said, with a laugh.

That is, after you get them a ticket to get inside.

Joe Hawk is the Review-Journal’s sports editor. He can be reached at (702) 387-2912 or jhawk@reviewjournal.com.

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