Updated August 19, 2019 - 4:46 pm
Hang on to your Mud Hens and Chihuahuas, your IronPigs and Baby Cakes.
A playoff to decide the best team in Triple-A baseball is returning to the city in 2020.
Aviators president Don Logan was joined by Pacific Coast and International League cohorts Branch Rickey III and Randy Mobley for Monday’s announcement that the 2020 Triple-A National Championship Game will be played at Las Vegas Ballpark on Sept. 22 next year. Ephesus Sports Lighting will serve as title sponsor with Fox Sports televising.
If the Golden Knights aren’t playing at home that night and the baseball folks lower beer prices, maybe it’ll succeed this time.
Following a one-off 1983 round-robin tournament when Triple-A still had three leagues, a best-of-five series featuring the PCL and IL champions was played at Cashman Field from 1998 to 2000. Attendance was sparse. A playoff to decide the Triple-A champion was mothballed until 2006, when it returned as a one-game showdown that has been far better received.
“It makes it full circle,” Logan said after a suite level ceremony at the new ballyard. “We started with the World Series — that was hard, midweek, playing a series at the end of the year. We struggled with the idea that we want to have a championship game. All of us who have been doing this a long time know competition matters. Winning and losing matters.
“The one-and-done thing, at first we weren’t sure. But it really does get everybody fired up. It’s one Tuesday night in September, and that makes it doable from a sales standpoint. National TV, national sponsor like Ephesus have stepped up. It’s a real neat thing.”
Elements in place
Mobley said from the International League’s purview, the championship game probably wouldn’t exist without Logan’s vision and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s support of the short-lived Triple-A World Series.
Add well-appointed Las Vegas Ballpark to the city’s destination status and there’s no reason Las Vegas shouldn’t be able to keep the championship game turnstiles humming, he said.
“In the few minutes I’ve been here, I had no idea it was going to be this special,” Mobley added. “When the ballpark hosts next year, it’ll be the 15th annual event. So we’ve got a little bit of history under our belt. It’s an event that allows the community to be showcased, and allows the players and executives to come in and experience the community and the ballpark.”
Regardless of who the players are and however unknown they might be.
Despite a team from the host city never having played in the championship game, all 13 since the switch to the one-game showdown have attracted strong crowds.
Less is more
The inaugural Triple-A National Championship game in which the PCL’s Tucson Sidewinders defeated the Toledo Mud Hens attracted a record turnout of 12,572 to AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City; last year’s game won by the Coast League’s Memphis Redbirds over the Durham Bulls drew an announced 9,183 to Huntington Ballpark in Columbus, Ohio.
“You think it would have been written off as an anomaly,” PCL prexy Rickey said of the whimsical one-game format. “(But) we’re in a different era. When you get to the end of a long season, and you get by those Sept. 1 (major league) call-ups — a lot of these kids are disillusioned because they didn’t get called up.
“It’s become absolutely conspicuous to me that when you move to that best-of-one championship, these kids roll into town and they’re all charged up. They’ve all called their wives or their girlfriends — either they are flying to the site to be with their husbands or boyfriends for this championship game, or (the players) are calling them and saying ‘Honey, I’ll be home Wednesday.’ ”
At least that’s what they say when the game is played in Allentown or PNC Field in Moosic, Pennsylvania, serving the greater Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.
In Las Vegas, there’s always a chance the Triple-A ballplayers might parlay their per diem money into a winning streak on the blackjack table, in which case their honeys might not see them until Thursday or Friday.
Triple-A National Championship Game results:
— 2006: At Oklahoma City, Tucson Sidewinders (PCL) 5, Toledo Mudhens (IL) 2
— 2007: At Oklahoma City, Sacramento River Cats (PCL) 7, Richmond Braves (IL) 1
— 2008: At Oklahoma City, Sacramento River Cats (PCL) 4, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees 1 (IL)
— 2009: At Oklahoma City, Durham Bulls (IL) 5, Memphis Redbirds (PCL) 4
— 2010: At Oklahoma City, Columbus Clippers (IL) 12, Tacoma Rainiers (PCL) 6
— 2011: At Albuquerque, N.M., Columbus Clippers (IL) 8, Omaha Storm Chasers (PCL) 3
— 2012: At Durham, N.C., Reno Aces (PCL) 10, Pawtucket Red Sox (IL) 3
— 2013: At Allentown, Pa., Omaha Storm Chasers (PCL) 2, Durham Bulls (IL) 1
— 2014: At Charlotte, N.C., Omaha Storm Chasers (PCL) 4, Pawtucket Red Sox (IL) 2
— 2015: At El Paso, Texas, Fresno Grizzlies (PC) 7, Columbus Clippers (IL) 0
— 2016: At Memphis, Tenn., Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railraiders (IL) 3, El Paso Chihuahuas (PCL) 1
— 2017: At Moosic, Pa., Durham Bulls (IL) 5, Memphis Redbirds (PCL) 3
— 2018: At Columbus, Ohio, Memphis Redbirds (PCL) 14, Durham Bulls (IL) 4
— 2019: At Memphis Tenn., IL champion at PCL champion
— 2020: At Las Vegas, IL champion at PCL champion