By: Hubble Smith, Sports Editor
For me, the month of October begins in the spring. Flowers blooming, birds singing, mitts popping. It’s the season my wife goes into hibernation.
One of my favorite springtime traditions in Las Vegas is Big League Weekend, which in its 24th year brought the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets to Cashman Field for two exhibition games March 15-16. About 20,000 baseball fans soaked in 80-degree afternoons at beautiful Cashman Field watching the Cubs and Mets split two games.
Most of them were loyal legions of the Cubs, wearing T-shirts and jerseys with names like Sosa, Pryor, Santo, Wood and Zambrano. The Cubs have made 13 trips to Las Vegas for Big League Weekend and they get a strong following from Chicago transplants living here and all the Chicagoans looking for the slightest reason to visit.
The Mets were also fairly represented. It helped that the team was stacked with players from the Las Vegas 51s, the Triple-A minor league team for the Mets. Wilmer Flores, selected to last year’s Pacific Coast League All-Star team, hit a two-run homer in Saturday’s 9-4 Mets victory. He played second base and his 51s teammate Omar Quintanilla was at shortstop. They were both called up by the Mets last year. Other 51s players in the Mets starting lineup were Eric Campbell at first base, Travis D’Arnaud at catcher and Andrew Brown at designated hitter. Brown had two hits and three RBI in the first game and homered in the second game.
The Mets brought their big stars, National League All-Star third baseman David Wright and newly acquired right fielder Curtis Granderson.
The Cubs got two home runs from first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who played at Cashman when he was with San Diego’s organization. All-Star second baseman Darwin Barney was 2-for-3 in the first game and doubled in the second game.
A few hundred friends and family of Cubs prospect Kris Bryant came out to cheer for the Bonanza High graduate selected No. 2 overall in the 2013 draft. He played two innings of defense Saturday without a plate appearance, and started at third base Sunday. Bryant was hit by pitch in his first at-bat and went 0-for-3 on the day, though one of his outs was a hard liner to left and another was a ground ball up the middle snagged by diving Mets shortstop Flores for a force at second.
Bryant (6-5, 215 pounds) came into Cashman hitting just 2-for-11 in the spring, though both hits were home runs. Eight total bases gives him a .720 slugging average. Baseball America ranks him No. 8 among its top 50 prospects.
Las Vegas 51s president Don Logan said he was happy with the turnout for Big League Weekend, with ticket sales cut off at 11,000 and only grass seating available.
He’s also optimistic about the upcoming 51s season with the return of manager Wally Backman, who guided the 51s to their first PCL playoff appearance in 11 seasons last year, and the addition of former Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola as pitching coach. Logan said the team features veterans like Flores, Brown and D’Arnaud, along with prospects like pitcher Noah Syndergaard who has performed well at the lower levels. Syndergaard came to the Mets from Toronto with D’Arnaud in the trade for R.A. Dickey. He has a big frame and throws downhill, a classic fastball pitcher. Baseball America lists him among its top 50 prospects.
Other 51s players having a good spring with the Mets include Josh Satin, hitting .308 and ninth among NL players with a .412 on-base percentage; Kirk Nieuwenhuis with a .304 batting average and tied for fifth in the NL with eight RBI; and Campbell with a .381 average.
The 51s open their season April 3 at Cashman Field with an eight-game homestand against Fresno and Sacramento. For ticket information, go to www.lv51s.com