Pining for baseball’s return to Shrine on Airline

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NOLA Gold Rugby
The NOLA Gold Rugby squad play home games at the facility known as Zephyr Field in Metairie (Photo: Stephen Lew).

Call me old fashioned but I still envision Shrine on Airline, aka Zephyr Field, as a baseball yard.

It was April 6th, 1997, when it seemed like every politician in America was at the Shrine on Airline to throw out the first pitch.

The axiom, success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, was certainly true that night.

Everybody who was somebody in metro New Orleans and Louisiana politics was there to grab a piece of the praise that night.

Now, when you bring up Zephyr Field to the politicos, it is truly like you are talking about some place that used to exist.

Trust me, it’s still there.

I drive past it often.

To see it virtually deserted is just a downright shame, and for me, a failure for the entire state of Louisiana.

The NOLA Gold Rugby team is there now, full-time.  The club’s owner Tim Falcon, is a good man, and he should be wished nothing but great success.

Between March 20th and June 5th, the Gold will play eight home games.

The new moniker for the stadium will be “the Gold Mine.” It is catchy.

But for baseball fans, and there are many in New Orleans, that nickname rings hollow.

The Zephyrs once won a Triple A World Series title.

In 2001, the club shared the Pacific Coast League Championship, when the playoffs were shelved post-9/11.

In the years since, attendance swooned.

NBA basketball cut into sponsorship dollars, but so did absentee ownership. The Zephyrs were just some team whose principal owner was some guy from somewhere else.

If I could talk to the Governor about it, I would ask him if it is acceptable that New Orleans is the largest TV market in America without professional baseball?

Does that serve the public interest?

How can Biloxi, Jackson, and Pensacola all have teams and New Orleans does not? Heck, even Binghamton, New York and Hartford, Connecticut have clubs.

Gotta love those Binghamton Rumble Ponies and the Hartford Yard Goats.

Those nicknames are almost as bad as the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

For many local baseball fans, that idiotic name change told them all they need to know about who was running baseball in New Orleans.

That is, they weren’t from here.

Maybe I will check out some rugby this spring but while I am there, I will see Lance Berkman and Richard Hidalgo running in the outfield. I will remember when the Zephyrs were the proud AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros.

I will remember CJ Nitkowski throwing the first ever pitch at Zephyr Field. He’s a professional broadcaster these days, ironically enough.

But I wonder where are all those politicians who 24 years ago thought that Zephyr Field and not the Astrodome was the 8th wonder of the world?

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Ed Daniels

WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM

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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…

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