Managers forced to water the infield during games. Players taking batting practice in a parking lot with 100-degree heat beating down on them. Pitchers unable to get a solid grip on the ball. Pop-flys turned into mammoth home runs.
It sounds a lot like baseball hell, except it’s not. It’s the way of life for the Las Vegas 51s, the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate. The Wall Street Journal paints minor league baseball in Sin City as some sort of post-apocalyptic high desert nightmare.
Take this quote from Las Vegas executive vice president Don Logan:
“There are two types of amenities: player-development amenities and fan amenities. And we’re lacking in both.”
Las Vegas creates numerous problems for New York, both on and off the field. For starters it’s a long plane ride to shuffle players back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors, creating a logistical headache unlike teams that have their farm club an hour or two away. The Journal reports only one other club since 1988 has had its Triple-A club further away from its home base than the Mets currently do.
Next, the desert-like conditions in Las Vegas create a skewed pitching environment. The combination of heat and thin air make games at Cashman Stadium sound more like slow-pitch softball on steroids rather than a step below Major League Baseball. As reliever Greg Burke told the Journal, “Basically, I can define it as the worst pitching place imaginable.”
Take Mets’ highly-touted righty Zack Wheeler, acquired from the Giants for Carlos Beltran a few summers ago. His ERA stood at 9.00 after four starts in Vegas. More than that, 17 of the 23 earned runs he’s allowed this season in have come at Cashman Stadium. (Wheeler’s ERA is down to 3.86 and he appears bound for New York by the end of the month.)
The Las Vegas team ERA is 4.76, 11th in the 15-team Pacific Coast League.
Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson’s attitude for pitchers in Vegas? Get tough or get out:
“It’s like using metal bats in college. It can be a real test for pitchers, but the ones that survive it, we have a little more confidence in.”
It appears, however, the Mets have played a part in there Triple-A troubles. The club’s longstanding relationship with the Norfolk Tides collapsed last decade. The Journal insinuates Mets’ CEO Jeff Wilpon is the reason the Norfolk affiliation soured, according to Tides’ executive Dave Rosenfield:
“When he became involved in everything was when things changed,” Rosenfield said. “I dealt with him on some things and somebody always had to go to him if you wanted to do anything. He had his nose and hands in everything.”
The Mets spent a couple years using Buffalo as their Triple-A affiliate but the team finished with the worst record in the International League. Buffalo wanted a winner, which the Mets were unable to provide due to its lack of viable position player prospects. It left the Mets’ only Triple-A option in Las Vegas, playing in an out-dated facility that can only afford two full-time groundskeepers.
Only the Mets. [Via WSJ]