The baseball fans of New Orleans have been here before. Those of a certain age remember the Pelicans flying the coop after 1977, leaving a hole in the landscape of the Big Easy that wouldn’t be filled until the Zephyrs moved there in 1993. The AAA team, a Marlins’ affiliate since 2009, changed its name to the Baby Cakes before the 2017 season. As ludicrous as the new name was, pulling up stakes and moving to Wichita is worse.
New Orleans, Shreveport and numerous southern cities hosted minor league baseball as long as the game has existed. Spring training was held in cities like New Orleans before the Florida Land Boom of the 1920’s led teams to make their winter homes there. The New Orleans Pelicans played as early as 1887, mostly in the best known minor league then available, the Southern Association. Shoeless Joe Jackson was a Pelican in 1910. Much later, Bob Lemon and Earl Weaver passed through New Orleans. The Pelicans were a Pirates’ team for 9 seasons and spent the entire 1930’s as an Indians’ farm team. As the Zephyrs, they joined the PCL in 1998. 8 years later, they were the first pro team to play any sport in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Then on Labor Day of this year, they played their last game, trashing the homestanding Oklahoma City Dodgers 10–1.
What’s next for New Orleans? The hope is the city can attract a AA team to move there as part of the Texas League. However, moves like that take time. With the park empty, the average worker suffers from this sort of upheaval. I talked to a worker named Jennifer who works at Russell’s Short Stop, a restaurant near the ballpark. Her opinion probably echoes that of other local workers. “We’ll definitely be impacted. We had a lot of traffic before and after the games, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, and the fireworks were beautiful.” One career will certainly end. Ron Swoboda, the former 1969 Met has been doing TV broadcasts for New Orleans since 2000. Following a health scare this summer, he won’t move when the team moves. His play-by-partner Tim Grubbs expects to move to Wichita, and blames the state of Zephyr Field for the team’s need to move. Speaking to a New Orleans newspaper earlier this year, He said the two worst parks in the league are in San Antonio and New Orleans.
Whatever the reason, the reality already exists. With the season still a fresh memory, the office closes far earlier than it normally would on business days. Minor league players must always vacate the city where they play as rapidly as possible after the season. That isn’t normally the case for team employees, but it has to be this year. Barring another team coming in to save baseball in the city, hard times are headed to that part of the Big Easy that focused on the Baby Cakes.0