Friday, March 15, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Chuck Johnson, the Las Vegas 51s' general manager, isn’t lost for words when talking about his franchise’s most important weekend.
The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers will play spring training games Saturday and Sunday at Cashman Field for the 51s’ annual Big League Weekend. It is the 23rd year major league teams have traveled to Las Vegas during spring training and the ninth straight season the widely popular Cubs are in town.
Some in the crowd get an experience of a lifetime. One year, that included a young Colorado Rockies fan in a chance meeting with star outfielder Larry Walker.
“The kid was about 4 or 5 years old, and he shows up all decked out in Rockies gear,” Johnson said. “Larry Walker was about as good of a person to that kid as I have seen. He greeted him with open arms and got on one knee so they were at eye level. You see this kind of stuff out here virtually every year (for Big League Weekend).”
The 51s organization uses the weekend as a springboard to its season. They hope fans who attend Big League Weekend will return to support the Triple-A team.
“This is literally is our Daytona 500,” Johnson said. “If we kick off the year with two well-attended games, that can carry us through the bottom line through the 72-game (home) season.”
The 51s are in their first year of being the top affiliate for the New York Mets, which is expected to be more of a draw than when the 51s were affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays. Initially, Johnson tried to bring the Mets in for Big League Weekend, but it wasn’t ideal because the 51s pay for the travel for teams in the event.
A charter flight from the Mets' spring training home base of Florida to Las Vegas would have cost around $180,000, Johnson said. It’s about $25,000 per team for the Cubs and Rangers to travel from Arizona.
The first pitch is at 1:05 p.m. each day. Several tickets remain for each day, starting at $35.