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Aviators quietly mark anniversary of 2019 title season

It was a year ago this week that the Aviators scored six runs in the eighth inning to defeat the Tacoma Rainiers 8-1 and clinch the Pacific Coast League’s Southern Division title during their first season at Las Vegas Ballpark.

The swimming pool beyond the outfield fence might still smell of cheap champagne and Coors Light.

“I didn’t get all the way in because I had my phone in my pocket,” 51s president Don Logan said in reliving the organic victory celebration.

Celebrating championships over a long, hot summer grind never gets old, Logan said. But the Aviators’ first one always will be more special because of all the people who worked so tirelessly in transforming a dusty patch of desert dirt into minor league baseball’s most spectacular new ballpark in roughly the time it takes to warm up the starting pitchers.

But Logan said fond memories also can be bittersweet.

“That was the longest year of my life, getting the ballpark done and all that went into that, and then my dad getting sick and ultimately passing away,” he said of his 89-year-old father, also named Don, who died in May 2019, just a couple of weeks after the $150 million ballpark opened.

“We were good, and the ballpark was great — I knew it was going to be a home run. I just wish my dad had been there to see it.”

The ballpark sits silent now. The swimming pool almost smells of chlorine again after COVID-19 canceled the minor league season and spoiled the Aviators’ bid to build on last season’s record attendance. Aviators manager Fran Riordan is 500 miles away, running the Oakland A’s taxi squad in San Jose, California.

“It’s unfortunate, but this is way bigger than baseball,” Logan said. “From a world perspective and from the perspective of our country, it has changed things forever. What we lost out on is unfortunate, but it’s completely secondary to what’s going on.”

Around the horn

— Jerry Reuss, the longtime Green Valley resident and Aviators broadcaster who won 220 games in the big leagues and still trailed Tom Seaver (311 wins) by 91, took to Facebook to pay homage to the terrific one who died at age 75 this past week.

Wrote the big left-hander about the big right-hander, both of whom wore No. 41:

“I once asked Tom Seaver in the early ’70s how often he had all his pitches working in a game. He answered, “Maybe 5 or 6 times a year.” Shocked, I asked how he got by in all of the other games. “Throw low strikes,” he said. “Sooner or later, something will fall into place and I’ll build my game around it.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? That philosophy led to a Hall-of-Fame career!

“Rest in Peace, Tom.”

— My earliest recollection of Tom Seaver is a bit different from Jerry Reuss’. When I was 12, the young Mets’ star was two outs from pitching a perfect game against the Cubs before a utility man named Jimmy Qualls broke it up with a clean single to left field.

I instantly developed a prepubescent crush on Nancy Seaver, whom the cameras kept showing as her hubby flirted with immortality. Mrs. Seaver replaced Marcia Brady as the new love of my life in front of 59,083 spectators at Shea Stadium.

While my buddies were sneaking peeks at their dad’s girlie magazines, I took the money I made for mowing the neighbor’s lawn and instead bought a copy of McCall’s — the one with Nancy Seaver (and Tom) on the cover.

— Brendan Gaughan nearly did it again. Driving for a part-time team (Beard Oil Motorsports) on a shoebox budget, Gaughan drove from 40th and last place at the start to eighth at the finish of last week’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona.

Coming out of the last turn of the last lap, Gaughan was running third with a shot to win before getting shuffled back in the draft.

“I saw payday coming out of (Turn) 4 — I was in third looking at the front of the field with nobody in front of me,” said the Las Vegas racer who insists the NASCAR playoff race at Talladega, Alabama, on Oct. 4 will be his last.

0:01

Former Las Vegas broadcaster Tony Cordaso, on Twitter after goalie Robin Lehner shut out the Vancouver Canucks for the third time in a seven-game series, prolonging the Golden Knights’ stay in Lord Stanley’s hockey playoffs:

“JUST IN: Marc-Andre Fleury enters the transfer portal.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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