There was something different at Sunday’s Aviators game beyond the pink and white chest protector and shin guards Las Vegas catcher Beau Taylor wore in homage to Mother’s Day.
If you arrived a little late or still were waiting in line for tickets when the game started, you could hear it out on Pavilion Center Drive.
I call it the baseball buzz. It’s the background noise you hear between pitches at a ballgame.
At Cashman Field, one rarely heard the baseball buzz unless it was Fireworks Night or Bobblehead Day. Or Dollar Beer Night, when the baseball buzz was seen more than heard. The acoustics at Las Vegas Ballpark, built more to major league specs, are more conducive to a baseball buzz.
But the biggest contributing factor to the background noise is spectators. It takes a multitude of thousands to create a baseball buzz, not just the two or three that turned out at Cashman when Pacific Coast League baseball was the only giveaway.
With average attendance of 9,034, the Aviators are on pace to post the PCL’s highest turnstile count since 2007 when the Sacramento River Cats attracted 10,003 on an average night.
I was talking to a neighbor the other day who said he was going to wait until the novelty of Las Vegas Ballpark wore off before checking out the Aviators’ new digs. At the current rate, he may have time to whittle a Louisville Slugger on his front porch swing before that happens.
Friendly Confines West
“We knew this was going to be great, but it’s even beyond expectations,” Aviators president Don Logan said in the climate controlled bar and grill behind home plate as the Tacoma Rainiers were putting a Mother’s Day beat down on the home side. “The place is comfortable, it has a friendly feeling, all the destinations within the park make people want to come out and take a look. It’s such a great experience compared to what we’ve had in any venue, really, in Las Vegas.”
On the one month anniversary of the ballpark’s opening, the team put out a social media post stating that 15 of the first 18 games were sellouts (based on tickets sold). After 18 games at Cashman in 2018, the 51s were averaging 5,658 which by season’s end would drop to 4,746 — 14th among the 16 PCL teams. During midweek games, you could have set the speed on a pitching machine to 11, turned it toward the grandstands and not hit anybody.
During one Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday stretch last April, the 51s had attendances of 2,949, 2,823 and 2,227. There was no baseball buzz on those nights.
The smallest crowd at Las Vegas Ballpark so far: 7,731 on a Monday night against Fresno.
If it appears there still are plenty of vacant seats even on sellout nights, it’s largely because season ticket holders sometimes do not show up (this being Las Vegas), and because Las Vegas Ballpark offers the ability to get up, walk around and watch baseball from a myriad vantage points.
Supply and demand
As Logan said, there are many destinations within the ballpark, and most are accessible on a 360-degree concourse stroll. He also said every seat in the grandstands from first base to third base has been sold for the entire season, perhaps giving credence to a notion the ballpark might have been built to a larger scale.
But you saw what happened in NASCAR.
Logan said the 10,000 capacity is like a line drive that resonates off the fat part of the bat. It seems to have struck the sweet spot.
“It creates demand, obviously, so it’s hard to get a ticket,” he said of a right-sized ballpark. “But it also is part of the intimacy that makes this place so good to come to.”
So the baseball buzz is back in Las Vegas, and if haven’t yet copped your first one of 2019, Tuesday’s 10:30 a.m. game against Tacoma (as if the opponent matters) may provide a hassle-free opportunity. You might have to put up with about 5,000 school kids screaming “We wanna hit!” at the 16th Smoker’s Strikeout School Day, but season ticket holders rarely call in sick for the morning game.
The school kids usually leave during the middle innings in the same bus, or so it seems. So for the first time at Las Vegas Ballpark, there should be plenty of elbow room in which to circulate and check out the amenities, and leaving the parking lots will be a breeze.
Packing them in
Pacific Coast League average attendance leaders since 2000
2010: Sacramento River Cats 9,138
2011: Round Rock Express 8,587
2012: Round Rock Express 8,389
2013: Sacramento River Cats 8,435
2014: Sacramento River Cats 8,561
2015: Sacramento River Cats 9,338
2016: Round Rock Express 8,637
2017: Nashville Sounds 8,861
2018: Round Rock Express 8,809
2019: Las Vegas Aviators 9,559*
* After 22 of 71 openings