Friday, September 9, 2016

Zephyr Field

All photos of New Orleans and Zephyr Field available on Flickr.

Two of the many things my wife and I have in common is that we are incessant planners and we love to travel.  Even before we left for our honeymoon in June, we were already booking our next adventure - New Orleans!  Luckily for me, a third thing we have in common is that we also both love going to ballgames.  So it came as no surprise to Megan when I alerted her that the New Orleans minor league team - the Zephyrs - was home while we were in town.  We found a break in the weather to attend Sunday night's ballgame - but first, we had some sightseeing to do.

Our extended Labor Day weekend started out Saturday with a fanboat swamp tour in the morning and a walking cemetery tour booked late afternoon, so it was an aggressive first day.  The fanboat took us around Lake Salvador, Lake Cataouatche, and the various protected swamplands in between.  We saw many, many alligators during our trip, most of which were lured right up to the boat by our fearless driver (and Megan's white shirt).  There was also lots of other flora and fauna on the trip, including bay leaf plants, Spanish moss trees, herons, owls, turtles, and spiders about as big as your palm.  There were lots of interesting things we learned on the tour, but the most fascinating to me was the fragility and ever-changing nature of the area.  A combination of weather patterns, sea level rise, and coastal erosion causes the outline of the lake and swamp to constantly move.  We were told that it is not uncommon for the entire swamp to be blown by several hundred yards after a hurricane, which understandably makes owning property in the area extremely difficult.

After watching half of the UW Badger football game (who were coincidentally playing LSU), the second part of our day was a cemetery tour.  New Orleans has burial customs unlike anywhere else in the country, tracing their roots back to its days as a French and Spanish port city.  Families are often buried together in large above-ground crypts and the most recently deceased are just placed on top of the old bones.  The reason for this is twofold: it is a traditional European method of burial, but also because most of New Orleans is actually below sea level.  Walking through cemeteries is not a scary or sad thing in New Orleans, but rather a way to get in tune with the spirits, and simply part of the circle of life.  Following the tour, Megan and I grabbed a to-go beverage at a bar oddly located a block from the cemetery and headed back downtown.  Oh yeah, the to-go beverage thing.  So, New Orleans has an open container law that allows you to drink pretty much anywhere you want at any time, even as a passenger in a car.  There are even drive-thru daiquiri shops throughout the city.  We made the rookie mistake the first day of having a drink in our hands almost at all times, simply because we could.  So unfortunately I don't remember much of the rest of our night on Bourbon Street, other than it smelled like (and pretty much is) an open sewer.

Our second day in the Crescent City was the day we made it out to Zephyr Field.  We started our day with two more quintessential NOLA stops - Jackson Square and Café du Monde.  If you go to New Orleans and don't see the nation's oldest cathedral and eat a sack of beignets across the street, you are doing it wrong.  Around 5pm we headed out to the ballpark.  The park itself is not actually in the city but in the suburb of Metairie, which is about a half-hour west near the airport.  Zephyr Field opened in 1997 and seats about 10,000 people.  We were actually at the second to last game in franchise history with the moniker "Zephyrs."  The franchise was relocated from Denver following their award of the expansion Rockies and has maintained the Zephyr name ever since, but following the season, the name will be changed to something more locally significant.  This is not surprising, as the owner is the same owner who changed the NBA Hornets to the Pelicans.  For us, it meant that the team store was practically giving stuff away.  It was tempting not to buy a 50% off cap, but I did get a Zephyrs program for only $1.

For being 20 years old, the park was actually in decent shape and not horribly outdated.  It's sad that 20 years is considered "old" in ballpark years these days, but that's a tangent I don't need to go on.  I sort of liked the masonry "fortress" type look that it has on the outside because it played well with the tall palm trees around the park, but the entry stair left something to be desired as it felt like you were coming in in a back hallway.  The park has 2 decks and a concourse with full view to the field, wrapping from pole to pole.  As is customary in minor league parks, there was a party deck added in both the left field and right field corners.  The one in left field was little more than a shed roof and some lawn chairs and looked to be in pretty bad shape.  The one in right field featured a legit swimming pool and a bar.  Having the bar not be a swim-up bar seemed like a missed opportunity.  I really couldn't investigate these areas too well as they were below the concourse level and had separate entrances, which also seemed like a poor idea.  Excluding those glitches, the team has tried in a few areas to make the best of the bones it has been given and make small improvements.  There was an area that looked like it used to be a storage room of some kind that was opened up and appropriately turned into a daiquiri bar.  There was also a fish fry stand with local varieties of fish.  However, in a city with a culture as unique as New Orleans, I had high expectations for things like concessions, marketing, entertainment, etc, but in most areas the team fell short in this regard.  I think that the Zephyrs are just one of those teams that doesn't draw big crowds and has kind of a middle-of-the-road stadium, and so they just kind of quit spending any more money than they had to.  With that being said, the stadium is certainly a timeless architecture that should stand the test of time.  While it is not flashy, I can see this park being around for easily another 50 years and becoming a gem of the community, assuming they are able to keep the team.  There is enough land and space to continue with renovations as the times change.

With 32oz pina coladas in hand, $12 front row seats behind home plate, and a late-inning rally by the home team, it was a minor league experience I won't soon forget.  The Zephyrs beat the Nashville Sounds by scoring 3 runs in the 8th inning and holding down the fort in the 9th to secure the 4-3 victory.  Former Brewer draft pick Cole Gillespie had the game-winning 2-run double.  Other notable players were Colin Walsh, Matt Olson, and Dylan Axelrod.  Walsh saw time for the Brewers this year, where he was infamous for having a .400 OBP despite never hitting the ball.  He picked up his customary walk but also decided to swing the bat once and got a hit.  Olson is one of the A's top prospects and went 1-4 out of the cleanup spot.  Axelrod was a former White Sox closer and got the start for NOLA, giving up only 1 run in 6 innings of work.  And speaking of NOLA, the Zephyrs actually had a guy on the team with the last name Nola who is also coincidentally from Louisiana.  He obviously drew the loudest cheers of the evening and gave the fans even more reason to cheer with an RBI single.

We spent the last day of our vacation riding the vintage streetcar around to different parts of town, eating a disgusting amount of seafood, and seeing some live funk and jazz music on Frenchmen Street.  The main purpose of our trip may not have been to see baseball as my trips with Erik are, but I was glad I got to sneak in one more new ballpark before the end of the season and cross another great city off of my travel bucket list.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 6
views from park – 2
view to field - 9
surrounding area – 2 (Saints and Pelicans training facilities, airport)
food variety - 6
nachos - 7 (BBQ pulled pork and cheese)
beer - 6 (only 1 craft beer stand, but good price)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8 ($12 entire lower deck)
atmosphere - 3
walk to park – 2
parking price/proximity - 6 (adjacent lot, we took an Uber)
concourses - 5 (entry sequence, hard to access outfield)
team shop - 7 (bonus points for everything being on sale)

best food – nachos
most unique stadium feature – pool in right field
best jumbotron feature – different item on sale every inning
best between-inning feature – post-game all fans run the bases

field dimensions – 330/400/330
starters – Daniel Gossett (NAS) v. Dylan Axelrod (NOLA)
opponent – Nashville Sounds v. New Orleans Zephyrs
time of game – 2:18 (0:35 delay)
attendance – 5070
score – 4-3 W

Brewers score that day – 10-0 W

Brewers 63-77, -26.5, -11.0 WC (4 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Reds, 4 @ Cubs)
Reds 57-82, -32.0, -16.5 WC (4 @ Pirates, 3 v. Brewers, 4 v. Pirates
Twins 52-88, -29.5, eliminated (3 v. Indians, 4 @ Tigers, 3 @ Mets)

Erik - 13 (+24 worked)

Peter - 30

No comments: