Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Orleans Zephyr Baseball

Sunday I flew from Sarasota via Atlanta to New Orleans to watch the Triple AAA New Orleans Zephyrs (Florida Marlins affiliate) play the Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis Cardinals affiliate) at Zephyr Field in suburban New Orleans. New Orleans won the game 5-2.

Neither New Orleans or Memphis are tearing up the charts in their specific divisions of the Pacific Coast League but it was still a nice game to watch.

Before going to New Orleans I found a link on their website to the New Orleans Airport Hilton Hotel that gives special Zephyr fan rates. The regular nightly rate at the Hilton was $189 but they offered a "Zephyr Fan" rate (obtainable only through a link on the New Orleans Zephyrs website) of $89 a night. I grabbed that rate and spent the night.

The Hilton is directly across the street from the entrance to Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. Because of my status with Hilton they upgraded me to a suite and gave a free breakfast. On arrival I called the Hilton and got a shuttle ride to the hotel. However it is so close to the airport that you can easily walk it. On my return to the airport on Monday I did just that.

I thought the hotel had a free shuttle to Zephyr Field but learned that was wrong. Instead I rode with Service Cab for the 3 miles to and from the ball park and the Hilton. The fare, with tip, was $15.00. That might seem like a ton of money, however when I checked on a rental car, the cheapest one available was $94.00 a day. I thought this was probably because of the oil spill. However on getting to New Orleans I learned that more than 35,000 Lutherans were in town for a convention. No doubt they ate up a lot of the availability of cars as well.

I left the hotel about 5:00 for the 6:00 p.m. start of the game. On arrival at Zephyr Field I went first to the "Strike Zone" store where I purchased a Zephyr home field baseball cap. I also picked up a set of the 2010 Zephyr baseball cards for a friend of mine. Leaving the Strike Zone I went first to check out my seat. Excellent is the only word I can use to describe my seat.

I was one row back from the edge of the field, directly behind home plate. This is as good as my season ticket seat at McKechnie Field in Bradenton for the Bradenton Marauders.

After finding my seat I took off to explore the stadium and in the process discovered that not only can you get constant New Orleans jazz and Cajun zydeco music in the stadium you can also get red beans and rice and jambalaya for a meal! It doesn't get a hell of a lot better than that. The only downside to the stadium was the limited beer supply. Despite numerous beer outlets there was only one place where I could find real beer - anything other than Budweiser - for sale. That place had Stella Artois so I was a happy camper.

In my exploration I discovered the "Gator Den" down the right field line which is available for parties. The Gator Den even has a swimming pool in it and this evening the pool was filled with little kids.

The game was supposed to begin at 6:00 p.m. but some lightning in the area kept the game at bay until 6:30 when the first pitch was thrown.

The final score was 5-2 in favor of the Zephyrs. I didn't really have any dog in this fight so I wasn't much into heckling although I guess since the Zephyrs are the AAA team for the Florida Marlins I was there as a Marlins fan. The quality of play was, as you would expect from AAA level, very good. The highlight of the night was a towering home run way over the left field fence that was hit by Hector Luna, the Zephyrs third baseman. Hector's home runs was one of those classics where you hear the bat hit the ball and just know that the ball is out of the park. The only question is how far out of the park! Hector is from Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. He was born in 1980 so he was probably running around the streets of the town in March 1985 when Chris Haney and I found the first Dominican Republic record of Kirtland's Warbler just a few miles south of Monte Cristi along the Haitian border.

Attendance at the game was about 3,000 but it seemed like many fewer people than that. The upper deck of the stadium was almost vacant and there didn't seem to be that many people in the lower deck where I was. I asked the woman selling Stella Artois if the Sunday night crowd was typical. She said that on Friday and Saturday nights the stadium is usually packed but on Sunday night few come to the game.

Those of us who came out saw an interesting game. I wish I lived closer to New Orleans for several reasons. One of them would be to have season tickets to watch these almost-Marlins play 70 home games each summer. At least I'm glad I was able to watch them once.

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