Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A Affilate Las Vegas 51s: Opening Night Under the Stars

Michael CampanellaContributor IApril 16, 2011

Opening night of baseball in Las Vegas for the 51s, the AAA affiliate for the Toronto Blue Jays, and the evening could not be more beautiful.

The sky is clear, weather in mid-60s and for once there is no wind! The crowd is quite large and boisterous which is to be expected for the opening night and they are eagerly anticipating the exciting fireworks display later on, as well as the five flat screen televisions that are being giving away.

Tonight’s game is against the Fresno Grizzlies, Triple-A team for the San Francisco Giants that saw Buster Posey on their roster last year.

I am sitting in the press box for the first time covering local sports from a new and intriguing perspective. Next to me on the left is the media relations director for the 51s, Jim Gemma, who we interviewed on our show last night on Vegaswise Sports Talk on Fox Sports Radio 920.

He told us they are very excited for the upcoming new season as the team is loaded with fine young talent, including the outstanding prospect third basemen Brett Lawrie, who just smacked a double in the fifth inning to the warning track as I write this.

Lawrie was traded to Toronto from the Brewers in a deal that sent pitcher Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee. Brett was a first-round draft pick in 2008, picked 16th overall and comes from Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

On my right, Dick Calvert. Yes, the Hall of Fame UNLV announcer who has been calling basketball and football games for the Rebels for 30-plus years. That voice rings true with fond distant memories in my heart.

The new manager this year for Las Vegas is Marty Brown, who comes over from coaching five seasons in Japan and was named 2004 International League Manager of the Year as well as Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America. Brown also spent nine seasons as a minor league manager in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland organizations.

The history of the 51s is deep as the original name was the Stars. The Stars began in 1983 and were the Triple A organization for the San Diego Padres for 18 years. In 2001, Las Vegas then became the host farm team for the Los Angeles Dodgers, which is a team widely supported by much of the Las Vegas valley. In 2009, ownership again changed to the current Blue Jays.

Many famous names have passed through here on the Las Vegas roster, including the likes of Roberto Alomar, Ozzie Guillen, Bruce Bochy, John Kruk, Eric Gagne, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and numerous other stars from the Dodgers.

Right now the 51s stand atop the Pacific Coast League at 5-3 and have gotten off to fantastic offensive start.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Lawrie just outran an infield dribbler, bringing in a game-tying run at 4-4. Eric Thames followed that up with a ripping shot to shallow center field, putting two on the bags with two outs and causing the Fresno Grizzlies to make their second pitching change of the night.

First baseman David Cooper then smacked one between the shortstop and the third baseman to bring Lawrie in to take the lead, 5-4.

Right fielder Adam Loewen proceeded to nail a line drive to right center, bringing in two more runs, putting runners on first and third and yet another pitcher change for the Grizz. The 51s take a 7-4 lead and this game looked all but over through six complete innings.

Well, as can be expected in AAA baseball, it's NEVER over until the end. Fresno made things interesting with a two-run home run in the eighth and now the 51s' excellent closer thus far, Rommie Lewis, just walked the first three hitters consecutively. A single brought two of them in and the Grizzlies tacked on a few more hits to take an 11-7 lead in the ninth. Las Vegas failed to answer.

Bring on the fireworks.