Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Abby Joseph sips on a margarita while keeping an eye on her 4-year-old daughter, LillyDrew, as the summer sun begins to set over Summerlin. LillyDrew floats around the pool using arm rings, while nearly 40 people around her eat, drink and socialize.
It could be a scene at any number of pool parties across Southern Nevada, but this one has a key difference: It’s taking place amid a minor league baseball game at the new Las Vegas Ballpark.
“This is so Vegas,” Joseph says. “It’s very interactive here. There’s a lot more to do than just sitting in a seat. I love watching baseball, but let’s be honest, it can be slow.”
On this night, as the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators open a home series against the Salt Lake Bees, Joseph and a group of friends have rented the pool area at the ballpark. It provides a private setting among the thousands of other spectators watching the Aviators’ 13-3 win.
Since opening in April, the 10,000-seat, $150 million Downtown Summerlin ballpark has become one of the places to be—and to be seen—in the Vegas Valley. The pool area, officially known as Desert Ford Dealers Pool, is no different.
T.J. Thedinga, an Aviators ticket sales executive, says the pool sold out months ago for the remaining home series, and fans are already requesting reservations for next year. At least one person even inquired about 2021.
The pool, located just beyond the center field fence, measures just 3.6-feet at its deepest, but the space can accommodate up to 50 people. It runs $2,000 to rent for one game with tickets included, though food and drinks cost extra.
Christine Gorlin, lifeguard and pool operator, has worked everything from kids’ birthday parties to corporate events at the pool during its inaugural season. She stresses awareness to the swimmers, especially since a few of the more than 200 home runs hit at the ballpark have landed in the pool.
Gorlin said the most memorable one came when a young girl beat out a bunch of boys to retrieve a ball that splashed down. She later got her souvenir signed by former Major League Baseball slugger Jose Canseco, who happened to be walking past the pool area.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at judging home runs,” Gorlin says. “I just look at the outfielders and see where they’re looking. You have to pay attention to the game, especially when the wind is blowing out.”
Sixteen-year-old Pilar Burgess, however, doesn’t seem very interested in what’s happening between the Aviators and Bees. “I haven’t watched one minute of this game,” Burgess says while lounging in a pool chair. “If a [home run ball] hits me, it hits me, but this is way better than just sitting in a seat at a game.”
Besides, Burgess’ companion, fellow teenager Thorsten Balmer, says he’s on alert for home run balls. He insists he’ll dive in front of Burgess to shield her if need be.
No balls end up landing in the pool on this night, even though the Aviators have hit four home runs to electrify the home crowd, especially those watching from the pool like Henderson resident Jack Daigle. “Being out here, it gives you a whole different view of the game,” Daigle says. “It’s a great ballpark. How many ballparks have so much for the fans?”
Aviators spokesman Jim Gemma says the pool is a rarity for in the minor leagues. The homes of two Texas teams—the Round Rock Express and Corpus Christi Hooks—feature pools, and the Frisco RoughRiders have a lazy river beyond their outfield.
The Arizona Diamondbacks launched the trend by putting a pool into their home stadium, Chase Field (formerly Bank One Ballpark), when it opened in 1998. But it would be hard to argue against Las Vegas Ballpark’s pool as the nicest at the minor league level.
“The pool has been the most popular group area for fans this season,” says Erik Eisenberg, the Aviators’ vice president of ticket sales. “I figured the pool would sell out, but maybe not as quickly as it has.”
For Abby Joseph and her family, any future visits to the pool will be welcomed—assuming they can get a reservation. “This is way better than Cashman [Field],” Joseph says. “We used to go there for Little League Day back when the Aviators were the 51s. Cashman was still fun, but this is really awesome.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.