Tonight, the Reno Aces play their home opener against the Salt Lake Bees, at the brand new Aces Ballpark downtown.
Last year, the city announced that it was bringing a minor league baseball team to Reno, and building a new baseball park downtown. I didn't pay much attention to it, because I assumed it was a low league. See, "Minor League Baseball" is actually a federation of leagues, grouped into 5 classes (Triple-A, Double-A, A, Short Season A, Rookie), with sub-classes in some classes (for example, A is sub-divided into High A and Low A), and each class with several leagues within it. A comprehensive list of classes, leagues and teams is available at Wikipedia.
For example, growing up in Green Bay, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (current name) played about a half-hour drive away. They are a Low A team, but were still pretty popular, and fun to watch, but still a long ways away from the big leagues. They played in what amounted to a municipal baseball field until 1995, when they build a decent sized (for their class, at least) enclosed stadium.
My attitude changed a few months ago when I found out that the Reno Aces would be a Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Triple-A is the best of the best in the minor leagues, and is literally one step up from Major League Baseball. Without going into too much detail, Major League teams each keep a 40-man roster, of which 25 are kept on active for that team. Most of the rest are allocated to their Triple-A affiliate. So the people who play for Triple-A teams are considered good enough for the big leagues, but are playing in the minors, essentially as a reserve system.
(Sidenote: A big faux pas is to say something to the effect of "when do you expect to go pro?" Almost all of the leagues in MiLB are considered to be professional sports; even more so for Triple-A.)
This is good news for Reno. Nevada as a whole does not have any major league teams in any sport. Las Vegas has the 51s, another Triple-A team in the same league as the Aces, the Pacific Coast League. However, Reno has not had a minor league team for awhile before last year. The Reno Bighorns are a NBA Development League team that started last year. The league itself is fairly new, and from what I understand it's fairly equivalent to Triple-A MiLB, but for the NBA. The season ended last week, and I kept meaning to see a game, but never got around to it.
Reno has had MiLB and unaffiliated professional teams before, but none have lasted long, and none were higher than the (now defunct) Class C. And historically, the teams and the community have never put an effort into making it work. The last professional team, the Silver Sox of the unaffiliated Golden Baseball League, played at Moana Stadium, which can most generously be described as "aging". Ticket prices were high, attendance was low. To put it frankly, Reno has developed a passive resistance to professional baseball, due to the various false starts over the years.
This time is different, though. We've got a Triple-A team affiliated with a decent ball club, and a brand new, 10,000 seat Aces Ballpark. Opening day tickets sold out within 20 minutes. The owners have been promoting the Aces heavily, and there's been a LOT of buzz. Prices seem to be reasonable, between $7 and $23 for single-game seats. And there seems to be a much more accepting attitude, if still a little skeptical.
I wasn't able to get tickets to the opener, but I did get a ticket to tomorrow's game. Good one, too: first row behind the visitor's dugout, right next to first base. I'm excited to go, as the stadium pictures I've seen so far look amazing (by minor league standards). People are saying that while it's not the largest ballpark in the minors, it is the nicest.