There is talk that a Major League Baseball team will one day reside in Las Vegas. At the very least, the commissioner is open to the idea. Of course, there’s already a pro baseball team in Sin City: the Las Vegas 51s, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets. Aside from the awesome logo on their hats, having its top affiliate in Vegas has been problematic for the Mets. The 2,237 miles from Vegas to Queens are most between any AAA team and its big league club, making it difficult for players to get to New York in a timely fashion.
Last night, starting pitcher Bartolo Colon had to exit the game after taking a line drive off his hand. The Mets acted quickly, booking a flight for 51s pitcher Logan Verrett. He was in uniform and available for today’s game. It’s not always that easy, and even when it is, players still have to endure a cross-country flight.
The average distance between AAA affiliates and their parent clubs is 500 miles. Twenty of the 30 teams are within 600 miles. The Mets are not the only team in a less than ideal situation: Oakland (Nashville is 1,949 miles away), Houston (Fresno; 1,489), and Los Angeles (Oklahoma City; 1,180) must ship their call-ups a long distance as well.
The Mets’ issues are not solely travel-related. As a Wall Street Journal article pointed out in 2013, during the team’s first season in Las Vegas, the field and environment are not baseball-friendly. The ball travels farther than in most other cities, the hard infield makes fielding difficult, and pitchers struggle to get a good grip on the ball. Those same issues inflate hitters’ statistics. Eric Campbell hit around .360 in Vegas the past two years and has hit .221 over three seasons with the Mets. He’s an extreme example, but the effect is real. As Mets manager Terry Collins told the Journal, “You just look at the batting averages and cut 15 to 20 points off.”
So why don’t the Mets move? In short, nobody wants them. Norfolk, Virginia hosted the Mets’ AAA team from 1969 through 2006. But, according to the Journal, “the relationship soured after Jeff Wilpon became the Mets’ chief operating officer in 2002, after which communication with team officials became ‘virtually nonexistent.’” Off the record, several baseball people (beat writers, agents, etc.) have told me Wilpon is difficult to work with.
The Mets moved their team to New Orleans, then Buffalo. The latter city dumped the franchise for the Blue Jays after the 2012 season, and the Mets have been in Vegas since. They are the 12th MLB team to house an affiliate in Vegas. With their contract expiring after this year, here’s to a 13th moving in next season.