In 51s’ quest for big playoff crowds, $1 beers will help

Because I fell asleep on the couch while watching the Wyoming football team frighten the daylights out of Nebraska, I didn’t get to Cashman Field to meet some friends until the bottom of the first on Saturday night.

Which was fine. As I strolled down the hill from the top of the parking lot, the sounds of baseball were coming from the old ballyard. Hearing the cacophony of the crowd buzz and the beer vendor and the crack of the bat and the muffled roar from the outside is one of the simple pleasures of sports.

Eight innings later, the 51s were spraying cheap champagne and cheap beer and full-price hot dog condiments upon one another, because eight innings later the 51s were Pacific Coast League Southern Division champions.

So Las Vegas is headed to the postseason for the first time since 2002, if anybody cares. The buzz at Cashman Field will be heard again on Friday night — and on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, if necessary — after the 51s and Salt Lake Bees play two games in Utah.

But the buzz probably won’t be as loud as it was on Saturday.

There were 7,206 baseball fans inside Cashman Field (and one walking down the hill), and when the best-of-5 conference championship series resumes here, there probably will be a lot fewer than that, because they won’t be giving away 51s replica jerseys.

This could all change if another fireworks spectacular or extravaganza is added on short notice (doubtful), or if Game 3 — and Games 4 and 5, if necessary — is designated $1 beer night (done deal, I’m told).

The last time the 51s were in the playoffs, midweek games against the defunct Edmonton Trappers drew not-so-grand totals of 3,373 and 3,097 baseball fans, when average attendance that season was 4,609.

Kids are back in school, and season tickets aren’t honored for the playoffs, and football season has arrived, and all the bobblehead dolls have been given away.

And this is why minor league playoffs are a tougher sell than peddling encyclopedias, or even girls direct to your room, because judging from the number of handbills that litter the Strip, guys from Iowa and Wisconsin finally have figured out the girl on the handbill is not the same one that comes direct to your room.

Don Logan, the 51s president who was wearing the alternate orange polo shirt Monday for Game 144 of 144 on an ultra-bright Labor Day afternoon before fluffy clouds turned gray, said the success of minor league baseball is predicated on season tickets and group sales and giveaways and other things that require planning.

With the 51s not clinching until Saturday night, it didn’t leave much time to promote a playoff series.

“You do the best you can, but there’s only so much you can do,” Logan said. “It’s a battle, but it’s no different than anywhere else.”

Those who venture out to Cashman Field will get to see bunting hanging from the railings like on Opening Day, which is always cool. They’ll also get to see Wally Backman pull managerial strings at least one more time, which also is worth the $10 price of admission.

With the Mets shuffling players to and from Las Vegas as if they were blackjack cards in a six-deck shoe, Backman pulled so many managerial strings that the left side of the infield looked like Howdy Doody.

And yet they named the guy in Salt Lake manager of the year. The consensus in the press box was that Wally got the short end of the fungo on that deal.

(It wasn’t unanimous, though, because there were a couple of Red Sox fans among the group, and Red Sox fans simply will not forget the 1986 World Series when Backman, playing for the Mets, batted .333 against their heroes.)

There’s also a chance Aaron Harang, who until recently was a pretty good major league pitcher, could start one of the playoff games after signing as a free agent. Harang worked four innings Monday sans name on jersey.

But if you’re not a Wally Backman fan, or not an Aaron Harang fan, there’s also a sentimental reason to jump on the Las Vegas bandwagon, or at least the team bus that departed for Salt Lake City immediately after Monday’s 5-4 loss to Tucson.

Before the 51s clinched Saturday, my pal Herb said this was the best summer he had since moving here. This was mostly because he had a season pass, but also because though most of the 51s are here only a short time, they sort of grow on you, Herb said.

That’s a better reason for buying a playoff ticket than a $1 beer. As Don Logan said during the middle innings Monday, “It’s more about the baseball now.”

But UNLV is back in session, and for the frat boys and sorority girls who come out this weekend, it’ll still probably be about the $1 beers.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

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