Hoornstra: So the Oakland A’s want to move into Dodger territory?

Minnesota Twins slugger Joey Gallo attended Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, the same school that produced Seattle Mariners reliever Paul Sewald and former Angels pitcher Taylor Cole. He grew up a New York Yankees fan, but not because the Yankees were a big deal among the locals.

Las Vegas had no major league baseball teams when Gallo was growing up – no major league anything teams, until the Golden Knights joined the NHL in 2017. Among locals, rooting loyalties have been historically divided.

They are not divided equally.

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper was among many Vegas kids who grew up watching Vin Scully’s Dodgers broadcasts on Fox Sports West or listening to the simulcasts on the radio. So it was that when Scully announced the 2016 season would be his last, Harper made his way up to the press box in full uniform to shake Scully’s hand in person. The bonds that Dodger baseball formed with a generation of children in the region did not merely fade away into adulthood.

If anything, despite having no major league presence in Las Vegas, baseball seems to have had an outsized impact on Harper and Gallo’s generation. Exactly one Las Vegas native – Ted Davidson, whose family relocated to California by the time he was eligible for Little League – reached the big leagues before 1995. From 1995 until Harper’s debut in 2012, another 15 reached the majors, according to Baseball Reference. Since then, including Harper, there have been another 15 major league players born in Las Vegas and the neighboring suburbs.

Not all are Dodger fans. Gallo recalled seeing Angels, Padres and, later in his childhood, Arizona Diamondbacks games on television growing up. And yet, Gallo said, “if the Dodgers played (a game) there, the Dodgers fans would probably take over.”

This is all in the realm of hypotheticals for now. But with threats of the A’s relocating from Oakland, the distinct possibility exists that any number of visiting teams could bring local fans out of the woodwork for a road game in Las Vegas. That begs the question: exactly whose territory is it?

Officially, the answer is no one’s. Major League Baseball has codified the territorial rights for each club, and none have an official claim on the Nevada market. That’s why multiple out-of-state teams have been allowed to broadcast locally in Las Vegas, with many others available to watch at the local casino sportsbooks.

Yet it makes sense that Nevadans’ loyalties would lie with the California teams. Research from UNLV documented the surge in migrants to the Silver State since the COVID-19 pandemic. The plurality, 40%, came from California. But this statistic ignores the deep roots MLB – and specifically the Dodgers – have already laid in the Las Vegas market.

From 1966-79, local radio station KBAD (920 AM) broadcast Dodger games in Las Vegas. From 1980 until 2000, Dodger games were broadcast on local radio station KDWN (720 AM). Its 50,000-watt signal was powerful enough to allow a motorist to catch the first inning somewhere around Barstow and follow the game action clear to the Strip.

In 2001, KSFN (1140 AM) took over the Dodgers’ local radio rights. The station’s general manager told the Las Vegas Sun at the time that it was important for him to carry on “the rich tradition of Dodgers baseball” in town. KBET (790 AM) took over in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers already had a loyal television audience on the local Fox affiliate beginning in the 1970s. In the 1990s, Las Vegas’ early cable adopters – those of Harper and Gallo’s generation – could watch Scully and Jerry Doggett call Dodger games on Fox Sports West just like any Angeleno.

“It’s a big baseball town, a big Dodger town. Vegas still is,” said Dodgers broadcaster Tim Neverett, who was the play-by-play man for the Dodgers’ and Padres’ Triple-A affiliates in Las Vegas from 1992 to 2003. “Walk, drive around town, you’ll see Dodgers license plate frames, bumper stickers, hats. So many Southern Californians moved to Vegas.”

Don Logan has been involved with the local Triple-A franchise in Las Vegas since 1984. Currently the Aviators’ President and COO, Logan can’t help but notice the unusual volume of blue hats in the stands whenever the Oklahoma City Dodgers are in town.

“I don’t know that Peter O’Malley necessarily intended that,” Logan said. “The Dodger brand is huge. Everybody’s loving the Lakers. It’s an L.A. sports town. The dynamics in our city are pretty interesting.”

How would that change if the A’s ever manage to relocate?

The consensus answer: not overnight.

“Especially if you (don’t) win,” Gallo said.

“Look at the success the Golden Knights have had out of the chute,” Logan said. “They’re in the Western Conference finals for the fourth time in six years. That absolutely builds a bond and creates a fan base quicker than anything. That’s what major league sports is all about. It’s about winning.”

The A’s and winning have had a strained relationship in recent seasons. Logan, who has been on the front lines of the push by owner John Fisher to move the team out of Oakland, believes that can change with a change of scenery.

To displace the A’s to Las Vegas would not exactly move them into the heart of Dodger territory, but let’s call it a main artery. The region’s loyalty to the Dodgers isn’t obvious at one glance at a map, but it’s real, and it might need at least another generation to overcome.

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