By Ed Daniels, Clarion Herald Sports
Southern League President Lori Webb quickly threw water on the notion that a Double-A team from that league would be headed to Zephyr Field to take the place of the Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes.
“I have heard that rumor,” Webb recently told a reporter. “But, we are not looking to go to New Orleans.”
So, there’s a real possibility that when the Baby Cakes leave, likely at the end of the 2019 season, that New Orleans will be without professional baseball for the first time since 1992. And, that would be truly sad.
It would be a disservice to all in New Orleans, and there are thousands, who love the game.
Don’t blame them for the trickle of fans who attended games at the Shrine on Airline for the last decade. The Miami Marlins have been a terrible affiliate, consistently putting bad teams on the field. And, in a town that thrives on relationships, out-of-town owners who visit sparingly do not cut it.
Baseball in New Orleans appeared to have an incredibly bright future 20 years ago. A new ballpark opened on Airline Drive in 1997. One year later, the Zephyrs, Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, won the Triple-A World Series.
Four years later, the Zephyrs tied for the Pacific Coast League championship. The PCL championship series was not played that season because of the national tragedy of Sept. 11.
After that, local ownership bowed out and a downward spiral began. The current owner promised to be an integral part of the New Orleans community, then bolted for a better deal in Wichita, Kansas.
And, to be completely honest, you can’t blame Lou Schweckheimer. In Wichita, his team will be high profile, not third behind the Saints and Pelicans.
As the state of Louisiana poured millions of dollars into the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center, Zephyr Field languished. Zephyr Field needs an extreme makeover. All of those home-renovation shows have nothing on the job needed to make Zephyr Field current.
The obvious answer to the New Orleans baseball problem is to get Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson involved. Mrs. Benson’s interest could spur the Southern League to be more inclined and the state of Louisiana more willing to invest dollars in the park.
In the meantime, it stings to hear the Southern League president say that New Orleans is “outside of our footprint.” That is a somewhat difficult statement to understand, considering that Southern League teams are currently in Biloxi, Jackson and Pensacola. Mobile will move after this season to Huntsville, Alabama.
So, maybe there’s someone in the bullpen, ready to ensure that professional baseball stays in New Orleans. But, if professional baseball goes away, a rich part of our sports history goes with it.
This is a slap in the face to all of the greats who hail from here, including Will Clark, Johnny Giavotella and Ron Washington. And, it is a disservice to the great legacies of Rusty Staub, Mel Parnell, Putsy Caballero, Lenny Yochim and countless others.
It is an also a disservice to former Times-Picayune baseball writer Pete Barrouquere, who spent his life writing about the game in his hometown. And, to the late baseball historian Arthur Schott, who spent his life promoting the game in Louisiana.
It’s time for the Superdome Commission and the state of Louisiana to find a team to call New Orleans home. If not, you have struck out, in a colossal way.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at email@example.com.