Will arrival of NHL and NFL to Las Vegas increase interest in 51s?

Updated April 11, 2017 - 11:21 pm

It’s not the same as a Christian revival, because awakenings come in various forms.

Take sports and Las Vegas right now.

While visions of NHL and NFL franchises eventually making the valley home have assumed center stage in terms of intrigue, the baseball team that has been opening its doors since E.T. was No. 1 at the box office and Hall & Oates topped billboard charts believes it still should have a share of the spotlight.

For the 35th time, the 51s on Tuesday welcomed a season’s home opening crowd to Cashman Field, a gathering of 8,451 to witness the Triple-A team whip Fresno 21-6 in the first of a four-game series.

“The idea of major league sports is great,” said Ted Krauss, a Las Vegas resident who has attended 51s games for years. “But there is nothing like baseball, and it sure doesn’t cost as much as those other two sports will.”

The first pitch came at 7:06 p.m., and fans still were arriving in the third inning, prepared to fight those long waits for concessions on the narrow concourse and hoping they picked just the right time for restroom breaks so as to avoid the lines and not miss large chunks of the 51s mashing with runners in scoring position for the first time in the young season.

Yes, it’s a still a place where all you see from home plate to the outfield wall is an impeccable portrait of the ideal ballpark layout and everything behind and around it a stinker of a dilapidated structure.

It’s still a beautiful playing surface and a dump everywhere else.

And yet they come, those devoted folks who, while perhaps elated about the idea of the Golden Knights taking the ice for the first time this year and the Raiders making plans to kick things off in a new NFL stadium for the 2020 season, still embrace all that baseball offers for entertainment.

“There is no question the excitement level for professionals sports here — and now major league sports — has amped up incredibly, and for all the right reasons,” said Russ Langer, in his 18th season as the 51s’ play-by-play voice. “But baseball has always had its own niche, and I think the core fans who have come out the last 35 years will continue to support the team, and maybe even more because there is just more talk about sports now in the community.

“The fans are still fans, baseball is still baseball, so not much has changed. But because of the growth of the area, people are understanding this is not just an event town anymore. This is a viable, legitimate team town. And this is the team they have supported for 35 years. I think they’re going to support them even more now.”

It’s an interesting debate, whether local interest in the 51s will increase with the arrival of major league sports, whether the buzz over NHL and NFL players making Las Vegas home also will become noticeable for those aspiring to one day be in the lineup of the New York Mets.

Chasen Bradford was born and raised in the valley, attended Silverado High and College of Southern Nevada, the closer for the 51s in his fourth Triple-A season, and would have given anything to have local NHL and NFL games to attend while growing up.

But he also understands the ebb and flow of baseball, its allure to those searching for an escape, the chance to spend a few hours watching a game and yet also having the time to engage family or friends or fellow fans in conversation.

It’s baseball, and in this way, always will be unique,

“We’ve had good fans, and baseball has its roots here,” Bradford said. “Baseball was here first, but Las Vegas is obviously excited with the other teams coming. It’s an exciting time to be a resident.”

Don Logan likes to say the difference between major league baseball and those on the 51s is that you already know the names of players in the big leagues, that the skill on display at Cashman Field and across Triple A is much closer to the level you’re watching on ESPN than most think, that names such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant are the special ones and then there are countless great players between up there and down here.

Logan was talking before the 51s pounded out 19 hits Tuesday, a team president in his 34th season with the organization who understand the pulse of his fan base better than anyone else.

He also knows how the letters NHL and NFL have stirred the town.

“I think the more people get used to going to sporting events, the better for all of us,” Logan said. “Up until now, it has been UNLV and us. But we have nearly 2 million people living here now. Sports have become much more of an option. We can all benefit from that.”

It’s a different kind of awakening and perhaps just as impactful.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 98.9 FM and 1340 AM from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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