Sunday, June 12, 2016

Omaha Storm Chasers 1 at New Orleans Zephyrs 3 (PCL) - June 11, 2016


My minor league stadium quest continues this week with a trip to four Southern League ballparks in Mississippi (Jackson and Biloxi), Alabama (Mobile), and Florida (Pensacola). Flights to these smaller cities are more expensive though, so I decided to fly to New Orleans instead. As it turns out, the New Orleans Zephyrs were home on the evening I travelled, so I stopped by Zephyr Field to see a AAA game to start the trip.



Zephyr Field is just a couple of miles from the airport along Airline Drive, and you do get the occasional airplane flying over, much like Citi Field. That is the only similarity though as this ballpark is probably the worst among the 30 AAA franchises.



There is nothing wrong with the routine stadium design; two levels of seating with suites on the upper level, some standing areas along the concourse, and a few amenities, including a pool, behind the right field fence. But that is about it.



The Zephyrs are the affiliate of the Miami Marlins, and just like their parent club, they have trouble drawing fans. First, the location is somewhat out of the way and not easily accessible. Add on the $5 parking charge and you are already battling to attract fans.



For a culinary city such as New Orleans, i would expect food choices to be more varied and much better. I had a sausage po'boy that looked like it had been sitting in the stadium since my last visit in 2001. At $8, it was also overpriced, though to be fair, was not that bad in the taste department. There are a few other local options but presentation needs to be improved.



Fortunately tickets are reasonably priced, and with so few fans you can sit anywhere you want, so buy the general admission seat at $7 and do just that.



That's all to report. There is nothing here to suggest an affiliation with Miami, or any history on the walls, or anything interesting at all. The starting lineups and PCL standings are posted, but every ballpark has something similar. It just seems like no effort is being made here to make the experience more fan friendly, other than perhaps throwing beads into the stands, a New Orleans tradition. With all that being said, I did enjoy my time here because it was a beautiful evening and I got an entire section to myself, but I don't expect to make a return visit.

The Game

Omaha (KC's affiliate) was in town and former Met John Lannan got the start for them, one of several  ex-MLBers in both lineups. Another was Travis Snider (below) who was Toronto's first-round draft pick in 2006 but never reached his promise.



Dylan Axelrod, who has 59 MLB games to his name, started for New Orleans and gave up a leadoff double to Irving Falu, who later scored on a single by Jorge Bonifacio. After that though, Axelrod was very sharp, retiring 13 in a row at one point. Meanwhile, the Zephyrs scored a run in the first on a leadoff double from one-time Oriole Robert Andino, who moved to third on a single from Austin Nola and scored on a sacrifice fly from Destin Hood. Andino, Nola and Hood combined for another run in the fifth on three singles and then Xavier Scruggs crushed a homer in the sixth to extend the Zephyrs lead. Lannan was knocked out of the game when the following batter lined one of his right forearm, but the damage was done. Tyler Kinley and Craig Breslow combined for two shutout innings of relief for New Orleans as they won 3-1 in a game that took just 2:17 and sent the 1,471 fans home happy. Yes, 1,471 for AAA baseball. I can't imagine there are other cities in the area who could better support a minor league franchise.



Notes

The Zephyrs are changing their name next year, so the name of the stadium should also change. It is so mundane though, I wonder if any company would sponsor it.

Nola is the brother of Phillies pitcher Aaron and an LSU grad. When the Zephyrs wear their third jersey, it says NOLA on the front, thus making Austin one of the few players to have his name on both the front and back of his jersey.

The college baseball super regionals are taking place this weekend and LSU was hosting Game 1 of their series against Coastal Carolina in Baton Rouge, about 90 minutes away. I briefly considered going there, but was glad I didn't: the game lasted 4:24 as LSU lost 11-8. If there is a Game 3 on Monday afternoon, I'll try to make that. Update: CCU won Game 2 as well, so no Game 3. Not that it would have mattered, even if LSU had won, the game would have been at 4, too late to make Biloxi at 7.

Next Up

I'm in Pearl, Mississippi (a suburb of Jackson, the state capital) to see the Mississippi Braves host Jackson (a city in Tennessee). Check back for the recap tomorrow. Or don't, because the game was rained out.

Best,

Sean

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