The Reno Aces played their final home game of the season like any other, with gleaming smiles.
With a 61-71 record in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division, Reno is one loss or one Sacramento River Cats win away from being eliminated from playoff contention.
But no matter the outcome of the contest, several Aces players savored every moment, like a group of kids playing Wiffle Ball in the backyard.
Sunday’s 10-9 walk-off victory over the Salt Lake Bees was more of the same. Domingo Leyba and Carlos Asuaje played tag with their gloves heading toward the dugout in the fourth inning. Abrahman Almonte and Jamie Westbrook shared a laughs in the outfield.
Laughter, smiles and joy filled Greater Nevada Field throughout the 2019 season. It’s easy to see for the thousands of fans in attendance. Opposing players even tag along in the fun with a friendly punch on the bases or cracking jokes during breaks in the action.
Aces manager Chris Cron felt the team’s positive vibes as soon as he walked into the clubhouse.
“I noticed it right off the bat early on,” he said. “I’ve been managing for 20 years, I know the demeanor of clubhouses if it’s good or bad. This one was spectacular from Day 1. The joy of coming to the park and playing a game with them is evident. Everyone pulls for each other even through some tough times. … We’ve had some tough times this year. That doesn’t deter them from sharing each other’s excitement when something good happens.”
At one point this season, Reno had six players on its active roster from three different Latin countries.
Juniel Querecuto and Asuaje grew roots in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Vargas grew up in Caripito, Venezuela. Abraham Almonte and Domingo Leyba represent the Dominican Republic. Yasmany Tomás is from Havana, Cuba.
Each player had a unique characteristic to latch onto, from the bear hugs in the dugout to the camaraderie on and off the field. Almonte — and Ace with a great heart — hugged every player in the dugout before the start of each game.
“They all have this fun aspect to them,” Cron said. “They all have big smiles and they all care for each other like family. It’s not just the Latin guys, it’s everyone on this team.”
Vargas stayed with the Aces’ big-league club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, for most of the season. But he immediately connected with fans and teammates in his return to Reno on May 11.
The Aces’ all-time hits leader is proud to call the Biggest Little City his home.
“They’re all like family, it’s like a home to me,” he told Tahoe Onstage. “It all starts with the fans who come see us play and I try to put on a show for them. I always smile because they give me that energy on the field. I try to bring that same positive vibe for my teammates and opposing players because it means so much to me.”
Leyba immediately acclimated to the team’s culture. He and Tomás formed a connection of friends and teammates.
“We all get along well,” he said. “It’s a laid-back bunch of guys and Yasmany is easy going. I get along with him pretty well and that builds camaraderie of the team.”
Querecuto, who speaks English and Spanish, communicates with everyone on the team to unify the clubhouse.
“When we all speak the same language, it makes us a cohesive unit,” he said. “I can talk guys like Yasmany (Tomás), Domingo (Leyba) and Abraham (Almonte) with no problems. Language is the key, and it makes us unified as a team.”
The Aces’ team culture was contagious for incoming players, as well. Center fielder Ben DeLuzio was optioned to Triple-A Reno on July 4. He was introduced to the friendly atmosphere in the clubhouse right away, making him feel more welcome to a new city.
“It’s been really easy for me to assimilate here,” DeLuzio said earlier this season. “The guys are more experienced and they’ve gone through what I’ve gone through. They know how to deal with it and help teach the younger guys like myself.”
When third baseman Wyatt Mathisen was in the midst of his hottest stretch of the year — launching 17 homers over June and July — teammates made sure to give him props when he touched home plate.
“Each one of these guys are great to be around,” he said. “We’re doing our best to make it, but it’s great just to kick back and enjoy some moments with them. They always cheer me on in the dugout.”
On the field, Reno smashed franchise records. The Triple-A club has 226 home runs — topping a franchise record of 178 in 2011 — with eight more games left in the season. The Aces rank third in the PCL in round-trippers behind the Las Vegas Aviators (233) and El Paso Chihuahuas (248).
Reno’s offensive explosion translated to the next level. Eight players made their big-league debut with the Dbacks this season. Pitchers Jon Duplantier, Taylor Clarke, Alex Young and Joel Payamps joined infielders Kevin Cron, Josh Rojas and Leyba to don the Sedona red.
“It’s great to see so many of them make an impact up there,” Cron said earlier this season. “I take pride in informing our guys that they’ve achieved their dream of making it to the big leagues.”
The Aces ended their last home game on a high note. Kevin Cron’s RBI single in the 10th capped-off a three-run inning to walk it off.
Reno had 13 hits. Almonte went 3-for-6 with two homers and five RBIs in the win. Batting leadoff, he launched a solo shot to the Family Berm in right field to start the bottom of the first. He had the game-tying RBI single in the 10th. Westbrook went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Asuaje went 1-for-5 with two RBIs. Lucas Herbet added an RBI.
Salt Lake had 13 hits. First baseman Jared Walsh went 4-for-6 with three home runs and five RBIs. His third homer was a two-run blast in the tenth to give the Bees a two-run lead.
Aces starting pitcher Justin Donatella surrendered four earned runs on five hits in three innings. Duplantier pitched two shutout innings in relief with a pair of strikeouts. Lucas Luetge picked up his fifth win of the season.
Chris Cron gave his final farewell to the home fans, he was ejected in the bottom of the ninth after Max Murphy was caught stealing. It’s his fifth ejection this season.
Salt Lake held a 4-2 lead after three innings. The Bees added two runs in the sixth. Reno answered with five runs in the bottom half. Jared Walsh blasted a solo home run in the eighth to tie the game 7-7. Walsh broke the tie in the 10th with his two-run shot.
Cron walked it off for the Aces in the 10th with a walk-off RBI single.
Notes: Reno was 37-33 at home this season. The Aces had 32 triples and scored 492 runs at home. … Reno has played 105 night games this season, owning a .278 team average. … The Aces are 6-3 in theme night jersey games this season. … Reno had a total attendance of 336,215 .
On Deck: The Aces hit the road for the final eight games of the season. Reno will face the Sacramento River Cats in a four-game series and travel to Salt Lake for another four-game series against the Bees to close the 2019 campaign.
There were plenty of Reno Aces season highlights full of records, dingers and laughs
- April 25: Kevin Cron, Tim Locatro launch three homers each
- April 27: Aces complete nine-run ninth inning comeback against Fresno capped-off by Andrew Aplin’s grand slam
- May 11: Ildemaro Vargas returns to Greater Nevada Field on debut of Copa de La Diversion
- May 14: Ildemaro Vargas becomes the Aces’ all-time leader with 400 career hits
- May 22: Reno scores franchise-record 25 runs highlighted by Yasmany Tomás’ four home runs and Matt Szczur’s cycle
- May 28: Cody Decker hits his 200th career MiLB home run
- June 8: Jake Lamb makes his first rehab assignment with Triple-A Reno Aces
- July 7: Cody Decker hits walk-off home run against Sacramento, retires three days later
- Aug. 10: Braden Shipley wins 20th career game for most in Aces’ franchise history
- Aug. 11: Kevin Cron breaks Chirstian Walker’s single-season home run record
- Aug. 13: Kevin Cron sets new franchise record of 56 career home runs in 172 games
- Aces notch three 20-run games for a new franchise record
- Seven sellouts at Greater Nevada Field including a season-high of 10,361 on July 4