Local group seeking return of minor league baseball to New Orleans

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Even before the coronavirus brought sports to a halt, this was to be the first spring and summer in 27 years without minor league baseball in the New Orleans area.

A group of local investors is trying to get it back, and soon.

That local group has pledged the money necessary to purchase and operate a team at The Shrine on Airline and has been in contact with Minor League Baseball president and CEO Pat O’Conner to express its interest.

A group of prominent members of the business community, elected officials and baseball enthusiasts met earlier this week to discuss the topic.

“There is a group that has significant assets that is interested in buying a team and getting it here,” said attorney and former Zephyrs minority partner Walter Leger, who is working with the new group along with former Saints executive and New Orleans city councilman Arnie Fielkow. The rest of the local group has asked to remain anonymous at this time.

“There’s a reasonable chance we can get a team by 2022, if not by next spring,” Leger said.

The clear goal is to secure a team in the Class AA Southern League, which has three other franchises within three hours of New Orleans – Biloxi, Mississippi and Pensacola. The group would consider other options, however.

Fielkow served as president of the Southern League before leaving for New Orleans to join the Saints management team two decades ago.

The minor league system could be in a state of flux later this year, when its current contract with Major League Baseball expires. There have been discussions of reducing the number of affiliated full-season franchises to 120.

“One of two things is going to happen in September,” Fielkow said. “You could see the minor league system as it is now continue to survive with some adjustments. The other thing is you could see a complete overhaul to the minor league system, where it’s run out of the Major League Baseball office.”

According to Leger and Fielkow, one of the next steps is meeting with a baseball-approved consultant about what steps are necessary to bring the local ballpark up to par. Since the stadium formerly known as Zephyr Field opened in April 1997, the improvements have been minimal.

Leger and Fielkow both admit it will take a grass roots movement to generate the support necessary to make a return of minor league baseball successful, especially with two major league franchises in town.

The NBA was nine years away from coming to New Orleans when the Zephyrs came to town in 1993. The Z’s had their most successful years at the gate prior to the Hornets’ arrival in 2002.

“It’s difficult,” Leger said of operating minor-league franchises in a city with multiple major-league teams. “But it can be done.”

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Lenny Vangilder


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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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