January 21, 2016 - 4:15 pm
It was Aug. 22, the penultimate homestand of the 2015 Las Vegas 51s’ season, when the (raw sewage) hit the fan at Cashman Field.
The toilets near the dugouts backed up and exploded into a noxious quagmire. Don Logan, the 51s president, said (raw sewage) got all over his shoes.
When the foul smell wafted to Pacific Coast League headquarters in Round Rock, Texas, the (raw sewage) hit the fan again.
At least this time it only was metaphorically.
The Review-Journal has obtained a letter — actually two letters — written by PCL commissioner Branch Rickey III to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the 51s’ longtime landlord. They express concerns about the continued viability of Cashman Field as a Triple-A ballpark.
It’s something Rickey has expressed before, but never with so sharp a tone.
The first letter, addressed to LVCVA president Rossi Ralenkotter, was written in May. Concerns — the main one being how Cashman Field “has sadly been surpassed by every other facility in Triple-A baseball” — were expressed in a short missive of five paragraphs.
The second letter was written in early November, after the toilets bubbled over. It required a second page.
Rickey said he believed it was necessary to restate the PCL’s concerns “because additional troubling events have occurred.”
Any time a toilet explodes near the playing field on Back-to-School Tin Lunchbox and Mouse Pad Night, it’s a troubling event.
“That particular problem is representative of what are more regular and pervasive infrastructure issues,” Rickey wrote. “The salient point is that the Cashman facility has deteriorated. To assure it will be ready for play beyond 2017 and 2018 might force an expenditure of many tens of millions of dollars and still not provide an optical long-term solution.”
The commissioner was swinging a leaded bat in the on-deck circle. He was only getting warmed up.
“It needs to be faced that Cashman’s days of reliable use are well behind it, a conclusion not limited to experts in Las Vegas. The baseball community also knows it and to such a degree that the big league teams in proximity to Las Vegas have opted for Triple-A affiliations in far less appropriate markets.”
I believe he might have been referring to the Padres and Dodgers.
“The playing surface, dressing rooms, trainer’s rehab areas, family waiting rooms, concession stands, restrooms, are all ongoing at-risk areas …”
The parking lot, which the last time I looked, was littered with old neon signs, wasn’t mentioned. Neither were the sirens that usually wail after the seventh inning, or the fourth of fifth, if the 51s’ starter can’t keep his pitches down.
Rickey eventually asked the $80 million question, which it probably will cost to build a new Triple-A ballpark.
“How long will MLB and MiLB want to return to this market, to come to town and highlight a relationship where the sport is not shown respect or extended meaningful partnership collaboration …”
In the first letter, he said “maintaining a viable franchise here in the face of such adversity is difficult already and soon will accelerate into unsustainable.”
These sound like warning shots across multiple bows. That if a new ballpark were to be built in Spokane or someplace like that, eventually the league — or an ownership group seeking to make a profit — might have to take a look at it.
Rickey closed by saying that he and Ralenkotter were friends, and that the PCL “prizes having Las Vegas as a continuing member of our league …”
Ralenkotter said a presentation was made at last week’s LVCVA board meeting in response to the letters. He said when Cashman Field opened 33 years ago, it was the most state-of-art ballpark in the Coast League, but that was before Camden Yards and other fan-friendly ballparks were built as entertainment centers.
And now? “I’m pretty sure new ballparks have been built in all the other (PCL) cities,” Ralenkotter said.
When asked if Las Vegas needed a new Triple-A ballpark, Ralenkotter said that was a good question. He didn’t answer it with a “yes” or a “no.”
He mostly said the 51s’ lease with the LVCVA, which owns and operates Cashman Field, runs through 2022; that the LVCVA is losing more than $5 million annually on the deal; that it has spent more than $8 million over the years to upgrade and retrofit and will spend more money to fix the dugout toilets (and the plumbing system).
He seemed to be talking short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions, alluding that a lot of entities would have to be involved with the latter. He also said the LVCVA was getting fired up for Big League Weekend, Cubs vs. Mets.
He didn’t exactly sound like a guy committed to putting a shovel into the ground to build a new ballpark.
Having once been a light-hitting utility infielder at the smallest of universities, I was hoping to hear a little more enthusiasm for climate controlled batting cages, and a wider concourse, and more restrooms for Fireworks Night, and toilets near the dugouts one could flush without fear of reprisal.
But this isn’t all on the LVCVA. Maybe the 51s’ ownership group will start throwing in the bullpen like it means it, too.
The 51s have been jointly owned by the Howard Hughes Corp. and Play Ball Owners Group, a group of investors that includes local pawnbroker Steve Mack, since 2013. It was then talk of a new ballpark in Summerlin near Red Rock Resort intensified. Those talks have gone quiet in recent months after a proposal to bring Major League Soccer to town was shot down.
There are two more projects — one for MLS, another for a minor league franchise — that propose transforming Cashman Field into a soccer facility, provided the 51s find a new home. Branch Rickey III mentioned these when we spoke.
Rickey, a personable man who has overseen the construction of new ballparks in myriad PCL cities (even Reno has one), said his letters to Ralenkotter were meant not as an ultimatum, but as a wakeup call.
“The PCL has no desire to relent on Las Vegas as a territory,” he said.
That’s what was said about the team in Albuquerque, too.
For nearly 40 years, the Albuquerque Dukes were one of the PCL’s most successful franchises, and when the Albuquerque Sports Stadium opened in 1969, it was the crown jewel among PCL ballparks. Eventually, the stadium fell into disrepair. (Sound familiar?) The team owner took the mayor to Oklahoma City, to see the modern ballpark there.
Yeah, pretty nice, the mayor said. So what? It’s not like the Dukes would ever leave Albuquerque.
The team owner would sell the Dukes to a group back East, which moved the team to a refurbished ballpark in Portland, Ore. Albuquerque was without baseball quicker than you could say Franklin Stubbs.
Eventually, the city leaders there would build a new ballpark where the old one had been. Albuquerque got its team back when the new owners in Calgary decided to play where it was warmer, in a new ballpark that had a climate-controlled batting cage and plenty of restrooms for spectators on Fireworks Night.
And then it was Calgary that was without Triple-A baseball faster than you could say Danny Tartabull.
Las Vegas and Albuquerque are different, in that Las Vegas has world class casinos and lots of entertainment options, whereas Albuquerque mostly has tribal casinos on the edges of town and a hot-air balloon festival. Branch Rickey III said we also have world class restaurants, and that his wife loves shopping at our Premium Outlets.
Then he reiterated what he said in his letter: That a “collective partnership of the PCL, the 51s’ ownership group, the City of Las Vegas, Clark County and the LVCVA can come together “to address this challenge and forge a very realistic and practical solution” for a lot less than it costs to build a new hockey arena.
I think he was referring to a new ballpark in Summerlin, or Henderson, or even a vacant sandlot near Boulder City, if that’s what it takes.
He hopes the many forces, as he called them, will come together before another dugout toilet explodes, before more (raw sewage) hits the fan and gets all over Don Logan’s shoes.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski