HYDE: Vegas ripe for singles hitters

Finally, a city seems as intent on using a sports league as shamelessly as sports leagues have used cities all these years.

How else to read that when two Marlins officials went to Las Vegas this week its mayor asked if they were married so he could calculate how many showgirls to bring along? In fact, how else to read that the mayor giddily repeated that story for everyone to hear?

The only thing better would have been if, when asked how many showgirls he actually took, Hizzoner had winked at the news conference and said, "What happens here, stays here."

Las Vegas knows what's happening here, and it obviously wants you in on the joke. With Washington now taken by the Expos, baseball needs a city to threaten relocating teams to, and Las Vegas has raised its hand without button-downing its image.

This is so different than other cities that suffered from Suitor-City Syndrome. They begged. They pleaded. They became angry for years, like Washington. They even built a lame dome in hopes of luring a team, like St. Petersburg, which not only had to wait nearly a decade but then actually fielded a team inside that mausoleum.

Las Vegas, meanwhile, greets the Marlins with a mayor who once was the mob's top lawyer. Change its image? It showed up at baseball's winter meetings with the mayor flanked by Elvis and showgirls.

Sure, no one but some hot-headed Miami officials can blame the Marlins for looking for better concrete elsewhere. If they would move, it would be a sad day in South Florida. Everyone would realize they miss baseball in the same way everyone would miss hockey if it ever ... er, never mind.

Sure, the Marlins need a publicly financed stadium to survive in baseball's handout world, and they're willing to go to any obscure site, any unviable location, anywhere at all that will foot the bill. You know, like downtown Miami.

In fact, the only stranger sight than a baseball stadium in Miami would be one in Las Vegas. It's the 51st-biggest market in the nation. That puts it smaller than West Palm Beach (45th). How do you think that will set in TV deals? Plus, you think there's too many empty seats at Marlins games now?

Why do you think Vegas officials are treating this as another marketing campaign? Already, they've gotten a Sports Illustrated feature and headlines across the country out of it.

Officials say the Blackjacks (why not?) would draw up to 45 percent of ticket sales from tourists. Think about that. Think how hard you'd laugh if Orlando said it would lure visitors away for Disney World, Universal Studios, et al., to take in a baseball game.

Do you think a group of Cincinnati conventioneers on a three-day pass from home will leave the casinos and shows to watch a Reds team they barely watch at home?

This isn't to say a good marketing department can't beef up interest. Consider the mileage the Marlins got from giving a dozen doughnuts to fans when the home team got 12 hits. That late-inning tension would be nothing compared to having a $5 gambling chip on the line if the two teams total 21 runs.

Big-league baseball, Vegas style! Imagine other possibilities:

Meyer Lansky Day: Any fan who is connected with organized crime gets in free.

Marriage Night: Couples can get married in an intimate chapel on their way into the game, two hot dogs and beers during it and a divorce certificate upon leaving.

Bookmaker Night: Bookies not only get royal treatment but can set up shop along the third-base side.

Elvis Day: Dress up like the King, get in free! The footage from SportsCenter alone would be worth its weight in polyester.

Siegfried and Roy Day: Bring your favorite exotic animal to the park!

Wayne Newton Imitation Day: Fans can step right up to the mike during batting practice and croon like your favorite Vegas singer.

Of course, knowing Vegas, a baseball team would just become its latest theme park. One year it'd be Yankee Stadium. The next, Wrigley Field.

Like it or not, baseball teams like the Marlins and Oakland A's are trying to use Las Vegas as a possible relocation city. The fun news is Las Vegas seems up to the using. What do you bet, now that the word's out, the next team officials to visit there are all single?

Dave Hyde can be reached at dhyde@sun-sentinel.com.
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