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Reno Aces kick off 2024 season

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The Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, kick off their 75-game home schedule against the San Francisco Giants Triple-A affiliate Sacramento River Cats Tuesday, April 2, at 2 p.m. at Greater Nevada Field.

The 2023 Aces set franchise records on offense in the batting average, hits, runs and runs batted in (RBI) categories. Between a prolific offense and friendly hitting conditions for both teams in their home park, expect plenty of plated runs with the prevailing southwest winds at Reno’s ballpark.

The Aces are managed by Blake Lalli, in his third season with a record of 157-111.

The team opened their season in Las Vegas this past weekend, sweeping a pair of games with a rainout in between and returning home with a 2-0 record. They put 19 runs on the scoreboard and smacked six home runs in the process. Reno was last in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in home runs in 2023.

The parent club experienced a magical run from wild-card playoff team all the way to the 2023 World Series, where they ultimately lost to a loaded Texas Rangers team, four games to one.

Former Aces played a central role in the D’backs run, including pitcher Brandon Pfaadt starting game three, catcher Gabriel Moreno, relief pitcher Kevin Ginkel, and outfielders Alek Thomas, Pavin Smith and Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year award winner Corbin Carroll.

The Aces have more talent waiting in the wings with a farm system rated fourth strongest by The Athletic.

Aces at the plate and in the field

Shortstop Jordan Lawlar, a top-20 MiLB prospect, leads the pack and is a potential star in the making. Lawlar, however, suffered a freak injury, tearing a ligament in his thumb which required surgery, so fans will have to wait for his return to action. He will miss 8-10 weeks.

The plus side, if there is one, is he’ll likely have a lengthy rehab in Reno before any call-up to the big club.

Switch-hitting outfielder Jorge Barrosa was set to lead the prospects on opening day and fits the mold of both Carroll and Thomas in an Aces uniform before him. Listed at a diminutive 5’-5”, he features solid defense and blazing speed.

Andres Chaparro is one to watch in 2024. The Reno Aces open their Pacific Coast League home schedule versus The Sacramento River Cats on Tuesday April 2 at 2 p.m. (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

Also like the other two he also possesses some sneaky pop in his bat with a career high 13 HR in 2023. The 23-year-old spent all of last season in Reno and started the season with the Aces, but was recalled to Arizona on April 1.

Andres Chaparro arrives in Reno out of the New York Yankees system, where he smashed 25 over the wall for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre.

First baseman Tristin English broke out in 2023 with 73 RBI and an .894 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Watch for shortstop Tommy Troy, whom Arizona selected in the 2023 draft out of Stanford University to move through the system and perhaps reach Reno by mid-season if all goes right. He’s stationed with the High-A affiliate Hillsboro Hops for now.

The Aces also have some veteran presence in the clubhouse in the form of Albert Almora Jr. who owns a World Series Ring from the 2016 Chicago Cubs and six years of MLB service, appearing in 600 games.

Randal Grichuk begins the season in Reno on a rehab assignment, having signed a free-agent deal with the Diamondbacks in the offseason, so they’ve got 32-year-old major league talent on the field until he is deemed well enough to depart. Outfielder Pavin Smith is back in town as well, after having been on a World Series roster last October.

Aces on the mound

Left-hander Blake Walston is the workhorse of the rotation leading the Aces in starts (30) and innings (149-1/3) in 2023. The former first-round pick didn’t allow a home run in 24 of his 30 starts—a significant feat in the home run happy PCL.

Flamethrower Justin Martinez speaks at Reno Aces Media Day at Greater Nevada Field. The Reno Aces open their Pacific Coast League home schedule versus The Sacramento River Cats on Tuesday April 2 at 2 p.m. (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

Humberto Castellanos returns after missing 2022 and 2023 recovering from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander is so effective because of his ability to throw any pitch at any time if his recovery has come full circle.

Slade Cecconi was Reno’s strikeout ace in 2023 and made his MLB debut vs. San Francisco last August and had seven MLB appearances including a pair of scoreless innings in the NLDS.

Bryce Jarvis also returns to Reno, where he logged nearly a strikeout per inning pitched after a taste of playoff baseball at the highest level last October.

A new face is Cristian Mena, who comes to Reno from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for fan favorite Dominic Fletcher. Mena brings his bag of 21-year-old talents from the Dominican Republic, featuring a mid-‘90s fastball and sharp curve.

If you like pitchers that bring the heat, check the scoreboard radar gun readings when Justin Martinez is on the hill. Another Dominican with a live arm, he’ll hit triple digits on his fastball more often than not. Look for Blake Lalli to call on him in high-leverage situations.

Aces at the park

Former Aces President Eric Edelstein returns after a one-year jaunt with the City of Reno and presses ahead with improvements that were in the pipeline before he left, in addition to adding more.

I spoke with Edelstein at length during the team’s recent media day about the physical improvements and game experience modifications on tap in 2024. It was clear he is beyond excited about his return to Greater Nevada Field.

A little hijinx as team photographer David Calvert herds the guys into their various jersey headshots at Reno Aces Media Day at Greater Nevada Field. The Reno Aces open their Pacific Coast League home schedule versus The Sacramento River Cats on Tuesday April 2 at 2 p.m. (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

“I just missed it,” said the energetic 45-year-old, who you’d probably mistake for someone at least 10 years younger. “Sometimes it takes stepping away from something that you’ve done for so long to really figure out what’s important to you.

“I had a great opportunity at the city,” he added. “I learned so much. I think it’ll help me—and us—be a better more effective organization in the future. But at the end of the day, this is just what gets me up out of bed and I was really fortunate that our owners had a mutual desire to bring me back. So I’m just super honored to be back.”

Edelstein confessed that watching the Diamondbacks run to the World Series aided in his desire to return.

“I mean, I’d be lying if I said that it doesn’t get the juices flowing,” he said. “I’m a competitor by nature, so seeing the guys that we’ve watched over the years go compete at the highest level and knock off teams no one thought they could…Yeah, it was just a magical month.”

The new updates for 2024 are part of a three-year plan capping off Greater Nevada Field’s first 15 years with an eye to the next 15 years.

The club-level suite upgrades that were started before last season have now been completed, and a new semi-private concourse-level small-group area has been added right behind home plate at the top of the section. This area was created for groups a little larger than might occupy a suite but smaller than the entire Party Zone in left field. It also provides a location closer to the action.

“It’s the first time we’ve put strategic thought into this, so I hope fans will enjoy it and notice that it’s a different experience.”Reno Aces President Eric Edelstein

Previously this was kind of a dead area occupied largely by visiting scouts and baseball intelligence folks.

Another small-group area is also on the same level just up the first baseline.

“It found a missing middle for us in those types of events that people were looking for,” Edelstein said. “So some of it is just being aware and meeting the demand of the ticket buyer.”

Greater Nevada Field regulars will also notice that some of the concessions have changed with distinct themes on both the concourse’s first base and third base sides and adjustments to the freestanding site at the right field corner.

“We re-looked at our menus and realized that we were getting a little bit homogenized throughout where all the stands were starting to look very similar,” Edelstein said. “So we took intention in rebuilding the concessions.

“We’ve got a barbecue-focused menu on the third base side and a more robust sweets and ice cream dessert menu, while the first base side Bistro is all Italian. We’ve had pizza out there but we’ve added paninis and meatball subs. We’ll also feature Peroni on draft.”

Edelstein continued, “Our Burgertopia stand in right field is going to be split into facing in and facing out so there’s two different windows there. One will just be focused on the craft beer experience with the full menu of fresh made burgers off the grill on the back side.”

The view from one of the new semi-private group boxes available at Greater Nevada Field (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

There are also changes happening in right field to better accommodate kids, families, and Gen Z fans who just want to hang at the ballpark.

A new, larger play area is being installed, a refresh to the kid zone along the tip of the wall in right center, and some themed ski-lodge vibe features will refresh the area as a whole. Get there early for the new Adirondack chairs.

Fans will also discover a vastly updated visual experience.

“We’ve added 200 feet of LED video ribbon so our LED video array will now be 360 degrees and four times the width and length of the original ribbons,” Edelstein said. “So more information and a far richer experience from the original 25-foot ribbons.”

But Edelstein and his team aren’t just trying to earn fans’ business with flashy upgrades. They’re also focusing on some of the small details of the game-day experience, like the condition of the seats, the ease at which one enters the ballpark, and the audio-visual experience as a whole.

“No one buys a ticket because their seat is bright and clean, but when the seat starts to fade, it can cast a pall on the whole experience,” Edelstein said.

Aces management has also upgraded the security screening process and equipment, now using the same systems employed at Diamondback games in Phoenix.

Last but not least, Edelstein revealed that they’re pushing themselves, perhaps even out of their comfort zone, to take advantage of the new toys inside the Greater Nevada Field playpen.

“We asked the video team to review all of our music, all of our videos, all of our graphics and say, we’re starting over, push that all to the side,” he said. “There’s going to be real intention in the type of music we play, why we play it, and which videos we play when. The LED arrays will add to it. It’s the first time we’ve put strategic thought into this, so I hope fans will enjoy it and notice that it’s a different experience.”

Tickets, schedule, team roster and stats at https://www.milb.com/reno.

Michael Smyth
Michael Smyth
Michael Smyth is a writer and photographer who moved to Reno from the Bay Area in 2007. Michael retired from a corporate road-warrior sales career in 2017 where he wrote freelance small-venue music reviews on the side to keep his sanity on the road. When he isn't covering a concert or sporting event he might be found concocting a salsa recipe, throwing barbless flies in search of trout, or recapturing the skip-and-stop wedge shot of his youth.

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