New Orleans Baby Cakes enter another season with little fanfare
New Orleans is a city that doesn’t keep secrets well.
There are too many places to eat, too many crawfish boils, too many festivals to mingle and chat.
In other words, there are a lot of chances to gossip.
But here’s a secret that has been kept very well over the last few months: The New Orleans Baby Cakes baseball season begins Thursday, April 5th at The Shrine on Airline.
That’s correct. It is less than two weeks before the 26th consecutive season of professional baseball happens locally.
Minor league baseball in New Orleans certainly has its challenges.
One of the biggest began with the arrival of the NBA in the summer of 2002. Is it just irony that the 2002 baseball season was the last time the Zephyrs drew more than 400,000 fans to the Shrine?
NBA basketball is competition for not only ticket buyers, but more importantly, sponsorships.
However, while the market for such resources has gotten tighter, there are other factors that have contributed to the lackluster local interest in Triple A baseball.
A big one, especially over the last few seasons, is bad baseball.
In 2017, the Baby Cakes won 55 games and lost 83.
On media day in 2017, a reporter pulled a staffer aside and asked point blank, not for attribution.
“What about this club?” asked the reporter.
“They are terrible,” said the staffer.
Unfortunately, that was a very accurate preseason prediction.
Cakes general manager Cookie Rojas has the belief that winning or losing is very secondary to the minor league baseball experience.
Mr. Rojas believes that unlike the major league experience, the minors are built on an inexpensive night at the ballpark with lots of entertainment.
He may be correct.
In 2017, Cakes attendance actually increased more than 10,000 fans to 349,883 for the year.
But one wonders how much will fans warm to sub-par baseball in a town with two major league franchises?
That is a legitimate question.
The last time New Orleans won 75 games in a minor league season was 2007. We certainly know the reason why.
The Miami/Florida Marlins have been an abysmal supplier of talent to their Triple A club.
Starting in the 1990’s and stretching into the 2000’s, New Orleans was blessed to watch future big leaguers like two-time major league All-Star Jeff Cirillo and six-time All-Star Lance Berkman, who played in two World Series.
In 1998 playing for New Orleans, Berkman hit three home runs in the deciding game of the Triple A World Series.
The most high profile player in recent years with substantial ties to the Zephyrs/Baby Cakes might be Logan Morrison, the Northshore High School product, who played at New Orleans from 2009-2011.
Then, there’s The Shrine itself.
When it opened in 1997, it was one of the best Triple A parks in baseball. Today, it is far behind in fan amenities.
If you don’t believe so, take the four and a half hour drive to Regions Field in Birmingham, home of the Double-A Birmingham Barons.
When Lou Schwechheimer took ownership of the club in April of 2016, he made a promise.
“Zephyr Field will come alive,” said Schwechheimer.
Maybe Mr. Schwechheimer needs more time to make this baseball revival happen. Until then, the Baby Cakes opener is less than two weeks away.
And, in a city where endless chatter is easy to come across, the Cakes have generated little of it.
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WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM
Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…