A Few Last Words from Las Vegas

By Jennifer Nieves

March 7, 2019 No comments

A lot has been said over the last six years about how it made no sense to bring the Mets Triple-A affiliate to Las Vegas. The logistics and just sheer inconvenience of having the Mets farmhands most likely to be called up stashed away out west were not great. All that is true.

More sensibly, the Las Vegas 51s franchise (and Stars before that) had been home to the Padres and Dodgers for many years. Then, there was the brief and unlikely pairing with the Blue Jays. It was not the place many teams wanted to be anymore. The stadium was falling apart on the inside, the facilities for the players were antiquated, and its location, a not very nice downtown corridor.

Then there were the general Pacific Coast League (PCL) playing conditions – Super hot weather, low humidity, high winds. The ball flying out of the park the way it does. Not a great place to develop pitchers. Inflated batting averages and ERAs made it hard to judge how the prospects were doing.

But it was what it was until the Mets could make a better deal, which they have now done with Syracuse. Funny thing is, almost three decades ago, I was a freshman journalism student at Syracuse. If the Mets had been there at the time, I would have been at all the games I could get to without compromising my studies (much).

Somewhat improbably, I ended up moving to Las Vegas almost 15 years ago. Far away from my Mets, only able to watch them online or on the occasional national broadcasts. Until one day a bit of news. Rumors at first, then confirmed. The Mets were moving their Triple-A team from Buffalo to Las Vegas!  I was so excited even if everyone else hated it.

Nonetheless, I feel like the prospects that played here made the best of it and thrived. As a season ticket holder for all six seasons, I got to see many young players develop and take that last leap to the big leagues: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler. They all graduated from Las Vegas into one of the best starting rotations in the majors.

Other players that got the call from Wally Backman, Pedro Lopez, or Tony DeFrancesco include Amed Rosario, Juan Lagares, Matt den Dekker, Wilmer Flores, Brandon Nimmo, Dominic Smith, Kevin Plawecki, Travis d’Arnaud, T.J. Rivera, Jeff McNeil, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Gavin Cecchini and Luis Guillorme to name a few. Particularly exciting for Vegas fans was the promotion of Las Vegas natives Chasen Bradford and Paul Sewald. Some have moved on, some are still trying to stick. And if Pete Alonso starts this season with the Mets, we get to claim him too!

Of course, over six seasons a lot of players come and go. So many who don’t make it to the majors, didn’t stick for long, or are in the back end of their careers, are still favorites for the local fans. Brandon Allen comes to mind. Matt Reynolds, Eric Campbell, Travis Taijeron, Johnny Monell, Vic Black, Logan Verrett, Ty Kelly and Juan Centeno were all really popular here.

Dilson Herrera, who is getting another chance this spring, has always been an exciting player and a super nice person too. Meeting and/or getting to know players is definitely a fun part of having a local minor league team.

Nimmo and Smith are two of the sweetest guys I’ve ever met. They always have a smile and time to sign an autograph or take a picture. Dom’s grandma A.J. was a frequent presence in our part of Section F17 in the last couple of years. Other family and former coaches came to watch their players too, and we took good care of them.

There are a lot of Mets fans living in Las Vegas. I know because I was there with them night after night. And while the rest of Mets fandom shook their heads about having the team here, we took advantage and loved every inning of it. And for a bonus, we got to see David Wright in his final rehab appearance before he took the field for the Mets one last time.

As games are underway in the Grapefruit League, and the players work to make the different squads, I will still watch with interest, but quite a bit of sadness too, that when the 2019 Triple-A roster is finalized, they won’t be “my boys.”

As the Mets move on to Syracuse, I just want to thank everyone here at Mets Minors for allowing me to contribute to their fantastic farm system coverage. And thanks to everyone who read my submissions and liked my photos. I had a great time doing this and will never forget it. Let’s go Mets!