Don’t count baseball out of the ‘Shrine’ just yet

By Ed Daniels, Clarion Herald Sports

I may be hallucinating. However, sometime soon, my guess is Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson will be in charge of another New Orleans franchise.

If the state of Louisiana and the Southern League get it right, they’ll entice Mrs. Benson to bring minor league baseball back.

It makes too much sense.

Minor league baseball is all about promotions. Can you imagine the crowd for Alvin Kamara night at the ballpark? 

Buy a ticket, get an autograph or a selfie with No. 41.

Or how about Zion Williamson night at the yard?

Since NBA basketball returned in the spring of 2002, minor league baseball has become a much tougher sell. It is doubtful that 500,000 plus will come to the ballpark like they did in 1998, but professional baseball can still work.

The state would be more than obliged to come up with the $20 to $30 million to renovate the Shrine on Airline. And, that is what it will take.

Just about every yard in Double A has surpassed the former Zephyr Field.

Next time you are in Birmingham, visit their ballpark downtown. That’s what a minor league baseball park should look like.

The finances in the Southern League make a lot more sense. Instead of flying to Tacoma and then heading to Colorado Springs, the New Orleans club could play the Biloxi Shuckers and then head east on Interstate 10 to play the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

The Southern League would be happy to have a TV market such as New Orleans in its fold.

If a local owner doesn’t step up, the chances of minor league baseball greatly diminish. North Carolina businessman Don Beaver visited Zephyr Field twice a year, early and late, to check on the franchise. But that was it.

Baby Cakes owner Lou Schwechheimer promised to be a big part of the New Orleans community. It was a promise not kept. In April 2016, Schwechheimer was quoted in a story by the New Orleans Advocate: “Our goal is to make New Orleans one of the top three franchises in all of minor league baseball in a couple of years, and we’re going to work tirelessly to make that happen.”

Oh, well. In Kansas, he’s pitching the Wichita ballpark as “magical.” Maybe, like Dorothy, he can just click his heels and make it so.

Good riddance. And, hopefully, very soon, welcome Mrs. Benson to the land of minor league baseball.

She has the cash and the clout with the state to fix a ballpark that needs an extreme makeover. Without sounding too provincial, she is one of us.

Batter up, Mrs. B.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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