Minor League Baseball has finally returned.
After the 2020 MiLB season was canceled, the Reno Aces, Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, held its first home opener at the newly renovated Greater Nevada Field in 627 days on Thursday. It was a bittersweet reunion for 3,889 fans in attendance, as Reno improved to 6-1 on the season with a 8-5 win over the Las Vegas Aviators, Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s.
As a mother and son tradition, Diamondbacks fans Hunter and Laura Polen have attended Aces games since the franchise’s relocation to Reno in 2009. They’ve been planning a reunion at Greater Nevada Field for the past year.
“It’s our first one in eight years we’ve attended and we miss coming to Aces games,” Hunter Polen said. “There’s a special atmosphere each time you come out, and we couldn’t miss this one.”
The cancellation of MiLB last year kept fans waiting to return to the ballpark, Laura Polen now savors each Aces home game she attends.
“It’s a tradition for us,” Laura Polen said. “We’re so excited to watch more games this season. This won’t be our last, and I know not to take them for granted from now on.”
Reno native Les Renn shares Polen’s love of baseball. He became a Detroit Tigers fan growing up in Detroit, Michigan. Since moving to Reno in 2018, he’s followed the Diamondbacks and their Triple-A affiliate since.
Renn has seen his fair share of Aces games, and the 80-degree weather was quite the pleasant surprise.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful field and a nice day,” Renn said. “You can’t ask for much more as a baseball fan.”
Minor League Baseball has served as a joyful getaway for fans across the country. That came to a drastic end in 2020, but Aces fans got a sense of baseball’s subtle bliss. The smell of hotdogs, eye-popping sunset, laughs and constant cheers filled the stadium.
For Oakland A’s fan John Welowski, Minor League Baseball is more than just a game. It holds a special meaning.
“Baseball isn’t the same without it,” he said. “We all don’t live in those big cities, so games like these mean a lot for people like me.”
Fans roamed the concourse away from the action, but the product on the field should give Aces fans hope for a promising 2021 season. Several prospects from the Dbacks’ tantalizing farm system have arrived to Triple-A Reno.
First baseman-outfielder Seth Beer was 2-for-3 with an RBI. Known for his powerful left-handed swing since his collegiate career at Clemson, Beer has two homers and five RBIs on the season. He was one of the top prospects traded in the Zack Grienkie deal to the Houston Astros in 2019. Speedy outfielder Stuart Fairchild added one run and RBI. Arizona acquired Fiarchild from the Cincinnati Reds last season at the MLB Trade Deadline in exchange for reliever Archie Bradley.
Coming off a dominant series win against the Salt Lake Bees, Reno nabbed its first win of the six-game series against Las Vegas thanks to a sizzling eighth inning rally. Down 5-2, the Aces responded with six runs in the bottom half to steal a win from the Aviators.
Reno leads the realigned Triple-A West League and had nine hits on the night. Domingo Leyba went 3-for-4 with a double and RBI. Josh Reddick — who played 1,251 big league games over 12 seasons — was 2-for-3. Bryan Holaday was 1-for-4 with a timely two-RBI single in the eighth.
Aces right-hander Alex Powers earned the win for Reno. Las Vegas’ Ben Bracewell was tagged with the loss. Starting pitcher Parker Dunshee went six innings, giving up just one earned run with six strikeouts for Las Vegas.
Las Vegas plated two runs in the second and third and one run in the fourth. Reno answered with two runs in the sixth. The Aces’ fireworks began with six runs highlighted by timely sacrifice flies and throwing errors by Las Vegas. Reno’s bullpen closed the door in the ninth to secure the win.
Covid Vaccines: For the first two home games, the Reno Aces are holding free COVID-19 vaccinations for members in attendance.
New Skipper in Town: Blake Lalli was tabbed as the Aces’ fifth manger in franchise history on Feb. 1, 2021. Former Aces manager Chris Cron was promoted to Field Coordinator on the Dbacks’ staff. Lalli has a career 155-125 managerial record for Low-A Kane County and Double-A Jackson. He served as a catcher for Reno from 2014-15.
Notes: Five prospects from this year’s Aces team currently rank inside MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Diamondbacks Prospects list in Beer, Fairchild and pitchers Corbin Martin, Josh Green and Jon Duplantier. Outfielder Corbin Carroll, Arizona’s 20-year-old top prospect, will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. Domingo Leyba has a team-best four homers and 12 RBIs.
Up Next: Reno faces Las Vegas Friday for the second game of the six-game homestand. First pitch is 6:35 p.m. Right-hander Jon Duplantier is set to suit up for the Aces in what would be his first start of the season. Right-hander Grant Holmes is the probable starting pitcher for Las Vegas.