Joe Santoro: Do the Reno Aces have a future? | NevadaAppeal.com
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Joe Santoro: Do the Reno Aces have a future?

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appealg
Then-Reno Aces first baseman Christian Walker waits for the ball on a pickoff play during an April 2018 game.
Steve Ranson/LVN

Have we seen the last of the Reno Aces, or at least the Reno Aces that we have come to know? A season without ticket, food and drink and parking sales could prove fatal to minor league baseball operations across the country. If and when the Aces return to the field, will we be able to watch? Will there be bobblehead, blanket, jersey and hat giveaways? Will we have to stand six feet apart in line for an hour or more just to get into the stadium? Will we have to sit six feet apart? Will we have to wear a mask? Will teams in the Aces’ Pacific Division still travel across the country to play teams in the American Division? Will the Aces schedule consist of just 35 games each against Fresno, Sacramento, Salt Lake and Las Vegas? Will teams financially be able to turn on the lights and play night games? Will there be more doubleheaders so teams can save on hotel and meal costs on the road? It’s quite likely more than a few ownership groups will disappear in the next few years because of this pandemic. The same could happen to quite a few fan bases.

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Aces’ attendance has been shrinking in recent years even without a pandemic. According to milb.com, minor league baseball’s official web site, the Aces averaged just 4,803 fans a game last year, its lowest since the franchise moved to Reno in 2009. The Aces were 15th in the Pacific Coast League last year in attendance out of 16 teams. The Aces’ top four average attendance years were the first four years (2009-12) the team was in Reno (6,481 in 2009, 6,218 in 2010, 6,089 in 2011, 5,415 in 2012). The best the Aces have ever done in attendance compared to other PCL teams is eighth in the league (each of the first three years). In the last seven years the Aces have never been better than No. 11 in the league in attendance. And that was when sitting among a large group of people was not hazardous to your health.

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Major League Baseball finally came to its senses this week and announced it was coming back in late July. At least now all of the baseball bashers in the media will have to find something else to talk about for a while. But we’ll believe there is going to be a baseball season (as well as an NBA, NHL and NFL season) when they actually start playing games. And just because they start to play games is not a guarantee they will continue to play games. Players, coaches and team personnel will test positive for COVD-19. That is almost certain. They are already testing positive and they haven’t even been around each other yet. They will miss games. A lot of games. Players will also miss games because of injuries, whether real or imagined. But at least they will be getting paid. For the fans, well, it will be like watching an HBO series in its sixth season after it should have ended after three.

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The most interesting development in baseball because of the pandemic is that the National League will finally use the designated hitter. That move is only about five decades too late. But better late than never. The designated hitter adds offense, it adds high-paying jobs and it adds drama and excitement to the game. It’s likely we’ve seen the end of pitchers bunting and striking out.

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Will Jalen Harris change his mind about the NBA draft and return to the Nevada Wolf Pack basketball team for the 2020-21 season, if we even have one? Harris told the world late last May (on social media, of course) that he was entering the draft and giving up his senior season. But the league has since extended the deadline for early entry players to declare for the draft to Aug. 17, meaning Harris could reconsider. The draft is now scheduled for the middle of October. We should know by then if the Wolf Pack will actually have a 2020-21 season. Maybe.

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Professional baseball certainly has enough players to get through a 60-game season and a postseason, even if every player on the big league roster tests positive for the coronavirus. Yes, the teams will look like a hodge-podge mix of minor and major leagues but that won’t matter much because the average fan can’t tell the difference between a Double-A infielder and a major league infielder anyway. Real baseball fans don’t watch the sport for stars. Stars, after all, can go  0-for-4 on any given day just like the backup infielder at the end of the bench. Stars in baseball are nice and interesting but not necessary. The NBA might be a different story. The NBA has always been about stars. Everything the NBA does is based on having superstars. What will the league look like if we have an NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks and LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all out because they tested positive for COVID-19? Will we even watch?

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Why isn’t Colin Kaepernick on an NFL roster yet? Is it simply because he hasn’t been able to show his 32-year-old abilities, that are now covered in three years of rust, in private workouts yet? What do NFL teams think they will even see in those workouts? Are they just waiting to have an official excuse not to sign him? Well, the days of not signing Kaepernick are over. The NFL has to sign him now. The league knows it. The commissioner knows it. Donald Trump knows it. Kaepernick knows it. Everyone knows it. So just sign him. Soon.

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The same goes for Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. Why are they still looking for a job? Is it because Newton and Winston still consider themselves starters in the NFL and won’t accept a backup job? Well, they should consider themselves starters in a league that right now has Tyrod Taylor, Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, Ryan Tannehill, Gardner Minshew, Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater on top of NFL depth charts.