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Leaving Las Vegas: Highlights and low points from the Mets’ years in Sin City

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Here are five amazing memories and five moments the Mets would rather forget from their time in Vegas

Photo by Jonathan Maseng

The Mets and the 51s have officially parted ways now that the Pacific Coast League season has wrapped up. While the Mets will be starting anew in Syracuse next year, with a much shorter travel time for their call-ups, it’s worth a look back at the past six years in Las Vegas. Below you’ll find some highlights and low points from the Mets’ tenure in Sin City.

Highlights

#1: The 2014 51s finish first in the PCL South, Wally Backman wins Manager of the Year

The 2013 Las Vegas 51s were a very good team, and the 2014 team may have been even better. Featuring the talents of Travis d’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom, among others, the team finished 81-63 to land atop their division and qualify for the PCL playoffs. Wally Backman was managing the team for the second year in a row and was given the Manager of the Year award by the PCL for his efforts, despite the team losing to the Reno Aces in the playoffs.

#2: Amed Rosario wins the PCL Rookie of the Year Award

Amed Rosario had an excellent year for the 2017 51s, putting up a .328/.367/.466 slash line for the club in 94 games, while displaying excellent speed, and playing good defense. It was enough to earn him the league’s Rookie of the Year award. Even more impressive, the second place finisher in the voting was Dominic Smith, who has unfortunately not been able to repeat anything close to his .330/.386/.519 line with 16 home runs and 76 RBI since.

#3: Finn the Bat Dog debuts in 2016

Finn the Bat Dog, a gorgeous black lab with an enthusiasm for baseball, made his debut in the 2016 season and has become a fan favorite at Cashman Field ever since. Finn retrieves bats, and brings them back to the dugout, and also brings water to the umpires at games. Fans love him, and he’s become so good at his job that many wonder why he hasn’t received a big league call-up.

#4: Despite its band box reputation, the Mets have gotten some great pitchers out of Las Vegas

The PCL in general, and particularly Las Vegas, is a hitter’s paradise, and yet the Mets have been able to bring up some amazing pitchers during their time affiliating with the 51s. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman, among others, all spent significant time playing in Las Vegas. They form the backbone of the team’s rotation and bullpen today.

#5: The Mets and 51s reach out to Latino fans

The 51s were one of the first four teams to participate in minor league baseballs “Es Divertido Ser Un Fan” (It’s fun to be a fan) initiative that’s tried to welcome Latinos into the baseball community. The 51s even had an alternate name/jersey that they’d don for minor league baseball’s “Cope de la Diversion” — Los Reyes de Plata (The Silver Kings). With baseball struggling to draw new fans, the 51s’ and Mets’ willingness to reach out to new groups was something worth celebrating.

Low Points

#1: Wally Backman resigns/is fired by the Mets and starts pointing fingers

Wally Backman had his good points, but he mainly had a lot of bad ones. Besides his infatuation for bunting, and questionable bullpen management, he apparently hindered the development of Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto. According to the NY Post, Backman refused to play Conforto against lefties, and moved Nimmo around in the batting order despite orders to stop doing it.

Sandy Alderson had apparently had enough, and depending on who you believe, either fired Backman, threatened to fire Backman, or insulted Backman, causing him to resign. It was all very confusing, but it was a rather acrimonious end to the Backman era in Vegas. Backman did himself no favors by badmouthing Alderson to the press and accusing the Mets GM of having him blackballed.

#2: Missed flights, tired eyes

Las Vegas is over 2,200 miles from New York, which made the 51s easily the farthest Triple-A team from their major league franchise. This caused more than a few problems over the years. When P.J. Conlon was called up to the Mets, the 51s were in Salt Lake City. Conlon had to fly a connecting flight to NYC, and his plane was delayed for three hours, which caused him to miss the connection and spend the night at a hotel in Chicago before finally arriving, exhausted, in Queens.

#3: Beating the heat becomes impossible

The heat in Las Vegas is fairly legendary, and the 51s do their best to avoid it by playing 90%+ of their games at night. But on June 22, 2017, it was so hot that even a night game couldn’t save them from playing in what was likely the hottest game in Triple-A history. It was 111 degrees at Cashman Field at 7 PM when the 51s faced off with the Salt Lake Bees. The temperature helped contribute to an absurd offensive showing by the Bees, who scored 16 runs on 21 hits.

#4: Pedro Lopez can’t get no respect

After firing Wally Backman, the Mets promoted Pedro Lopez to be the new manager of the 51s. Lopez was highly regarded within the Mets’ system, but was given very little chance to prove himself in Las Vegas. The team stumbled badly in his year at the helm, mostly due to the fact that the Mets had depleted their minor league system at that point and had scant talent at Triple-A. It’s hard to win when three of your top five pitchers by innings pitched are Wilfredo Boscan, Mitch Atkins, and Donovan Hand. The Mets promptly removed Lopez as the 51s manager and assigned him to the Columbia Fireflies in Single-A ball. While there were rumblings that Lopez had lost the respect of the clubhouse, it was an awfully short leash for a manager who’d more than proven himself in Binghamton.

#5: A sewage backup at Cashman Field forces the team to flee

Cashman Field was an old, out-of-date park. This was never more evident than during an August 22nd game in 2015, when sewage began backing up at Cashman Field and flooded the dugout, causing the 51s to flee. “There was sh*t floating in the dugout,” an animated Wally Backman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It was a truly stinky moment, and one that fans at Cashman Field weren’t quick to forget.