Las Vegas has gone from having one of the most derided minor league ballparks to boasting a modern jewel celebrating America's pastime in 2019.
This season the Las Vegas Aviators, the top-level (Class AAA) minor league affiliate of the Oakland A's, are playing in Las Vegas Ballpark, a brand new $150 million facility in Summerlin, a community on the western edge of the Las Vegas Valley.
Cashman Field, just north of Downtown Las Vegas, was home to minor league baseball in southern Nevada for more than three decades. In its final years, it received criticism from the Pacific Coast League and from its teams, as well, and the facility was widely considered outdated.
"To its credit, Cashman had a lot of charm and a bit of nostalgia. When the first Triple-A team came in 1983 it was the first pro sports team in town. The first team with 'Las Vegas' on its chest that played for us," said the Las Vegas Sun's managing editor, Ray Brewer, a native of the area who spent a decade as the newspaper's sports editor.
"At the end, though, it lacked the player and fan amenities seen at other Triple-A stadiums, and it was the second-oldest stadium in the minor leagues," Brewer said. "Nobody wanted to be affiliated with Las Vegas. The batting cages were outside. If a player got injured, they would send the guy to Double-A because the rehab facilities would be better there."
By contrast, Las Vegas Ballpark is an amenity-heavy, state-of-the-art facility with batting cages, workout and treatment facilities all located indoors. The new 10,000-seat park features 22 luxury suites, a pool in center field, a kid's zone, and a multitude of bars and food stands. It also boasts the largest video board in minor league baseball at 3,930 square feet.
"It's as impressive as any baseball facility I've been in," Brewer said. "The seats are very comfortable. It's all mesh seating, which is a great change from the old metal benches when it gets hotter."
Unlike the forthcoming football stadium being built at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip, the Las Vegas Ballpark is 11 miles west of the casino and resort corridor.
The venue is just one part of a rapidly expanding entertainment and commercial district in Summerlin.
Downtown Summerlin, a mixed-used development with shops, a movie theater, restaurants and a weekend farmers market, has become more of a destination as the surrounding amenities have expanded. Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa is nearby; it will be hosting the Epicurean Affair food festival, with Strip stars such as Scarpetta, Zuma and Scotch 80 Prime, in May. Also close to the new ballpark is City National Arena, where the NHL's Las Vegas Golden Knights hold practices, which are open to the public free of charge.
Las Vegas Ballpark also plans to host sporting events other than baseball, in addition to live performances and community programming. The area also serves as the gateway to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a hot spot for bikers, hikers, rock climbers and general outdoor enthusiasts.
"If you're in town for two nights, it might be hard to choose a night in Summerlin for a ballgame over the Strip," Brewer said. "But if you are here for a week, it's a great way to change things up. It's worth going off the beaten path for."
Brewer sees the sports scene in Las Vegas continuing to expand. The Golden Knights have been an instant success on the ice and in the community, drawing strong crowds and making the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second year in a row. The NFL's Oakland Raiders are heading to the city and are expected to start play there in 2020. And the Las Vegas Lights FC of the United Soccer League has moved into Cashman.
"We always knew before the Knights came that we could do a big event, a Mayweather fight or a Nascar weekend," Brewer said. "But with the success of the Golden Knights, it showed Las Vegas could support a professional sports team. That success has opened the eyes of other leagues I think you could see the NBA moving in sooner rather than later."