While high-level pro baseball will be making a much-anticipated return to Northern Nevada this year, it could easily be argued that it has never really been that far away.
Northern Nevada has produced its fair share of pro baseball players " Matt Williams, Darrell Rasner and Shawn Estes just to name a very few " the Sierra range has always been a peculiar hub of baseball activity.
Whether it be former stars coming home to roost in the picturesque mountains, or scouts delving deep into the local ranks looking to unearth new talent, baseball is as prevalent as any other sport in the area.
That's why it comes as little surprise that the inaugural season of the Reno Aces Triple-A professional baseball club is creating such a buzz heading into the season, which started last week in Salt Lake City.
"I think what they have done up there is absolutely outstanding," said Joe Nosenzo, a Minden-based scout for the Seattle Mariners. "Reno's history in supporting pro baseball is not all that good. But they have taken this program, put $50 million into a project on a downtown corner to build a stadium and surround it fan-friendly amenities. They have centered the location around baseball with businesses and restaurants. It should be wonderful for the Reno area."
Nosenzo said while the facilities are as impressive as he has seen at the minor league level, he said the level of baseball should be well worth the price.
"These kids are one notch away from the major leagues," he said. "This is one of the best Triple-A stadiums I have ever seen. When the fans go out there, they will be treated to a wonderful park and some very, very good baseball.
"There will be some great rivalries established as well. Sacramento is right in our backyard, and you get the whole North-South thing with Las Vegas. Salt Lake isn't too far away and then you have Portland up there so they will literally be bringing in rivals from the north, the south, the east and the west. It should be great."
Douglas High pitching coach Rick Kester, who pitched in the Atlanta Braves organization for six years before an arm injury ended his career in 1972, said he has very fond memories of the Triple-A ball.
"I spent most of my career in Triple-A at Richmond, Virginia," Kester said. "I had one year in the big leagues, but most of the rest of my time was in Triple-A. I have a great deal of appreciation for that level of ball, and a lot of good memories.
"It's good baseball. You get a great mix of outstanding prospects with a couple of years under their belts and some veterans who are just a step away if someone gets hurt or they need a spot start in the big leagues. It's the next best thing to Major League Baseball. You are seeing some guys who have been around, you're seeing the best these organizations have."
Nosenzo said the fact that the Aces are playing in the Pacific Coast League is an added bonus.
"The PCL is the best of the Triple-A league, in my opinion," Nosenzo said. "You'll see some of the best professional baseball being played in Reno this year."
That's something that can carry down through the baseball ranks in an area, he added.
"Something I'm always telling kids is that if they want to get to the next level, they need to be watching it to see how it's done," Nosenzo said. "This is tremendous for this area, because you have a great community college baseball program in Carson, a very competitive four-year school in Reno and now you have Triple-A baseball.
"If you want to move your game up the rung a bit, there are plenty of options around here to see where you need to be."
Kester pointed out that one never knows who they are going to see.
"I played with a lot of great ballplayers at the Triple-A level," he said. "Dusty Baker, Darrell Evans, Ralph Garr. You don't know who is going to make it big someday, and then you can say 'I saw them when.' The whole thing is good for the area, good for baseball. People should be excited about it."
Joey Crandall can be reached at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.