The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Flashback: The Zephyrs brought pro baseball back to New Orleans 30 years ago

When Denver got its Major League Baseball expansion franchise Colorado Rockies in 1993, the minor-league Denver Zephyrs, which had been a mainstay in the Mile High City for years, was required to relocate to another city. It was then that professional baseball returned to New Orleans after a sixteen-year absence. The city’s baseball fans rejoiced when the National Association awarded the Zephyrs franchise to the city.

After an unresolved battle with New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson over the use of UNO’s Privateer Park, Zephyrs owner John Dikeou finally reached an agreement with the LSU Board of Supervisors to use the university’s 2,500 seat stadium for its home games. Benson had acquired the lease rights to the stadium when he had plans to relocate a minor-league team from Charlotte to New Orleans. But that never materialized. The Board’s decision came less than a month before the start of the Zephyrs’ regular season.

New Orleans had experience with an entry in the Triple-A American Association when the city was home to the New Orleans Pelicans, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals in the American Association in 1977. The Pelicans played their home games in the Louisiana Superdome.

The Zephyrs, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, were managed by Chris Bando, who was in his fourth season as a minor-league manager in the Brewers organization. His philosophy for the team was to mirror the Brewers’ major-league club—put pressure on the opposition by being aggressive on offense and defense, including a running game on the bases.

Bando expected Mark Davis, Troy O’Leary, Larry Sheets, and Eddie Williams to supply power in the lineup. Knuckleballer Steve Sparks, Jamie McAndrew, Mike Farrell, Rafael Novoa, and Matt Maysey formed Bando’s starting rotation.

The Zephyrs’ first regular-season home game was scheduled for April 16 against the Buffalo Bisons. The Times-Picayune reported that GM Jay Cicero and his staff had been busy selling 420 pre-season tickets and another individual 800 tickets a week before the game and were hopeful for a sellout. He told the Times-Picayune days before the home-opener, “We’ve had nothing but positive response from the public coming into our office and purchasing tickets, calling us up and asking for schedules.” Ticket prices for Zephyrs home games were $7 for reserved seats, while general admission tickets were $4 for adults and $3 for students and seniors.

On the strength of its pitching, the Zephyrs started the season with a 5-0 record on its road trip against Indianapolis and Louisville.

The team followed that with its Friday night home stand before a Privateer Park sellout crowd of 2,764 against Buffalo. Local musician Deacon John graced the crowd with his rendition of the national anthem.

Dikeou said before the game, “There is no question that everyone is excited to have baseball back in New Orleans. The people can’t wait to get out to the ballpark. I just wish we had more seats to accommodate them.” Dikeou was referring to his initiative to upgrade UNO’s seating capacity to 5,000, one of the conditions of his acquiring the stadium lease.

Bando went with Maysey as his starter against the Bisons. The right-hander had also started in the season-opener against Indianapolis. Buffalo’s manager Doc Edwards countered with Victor Cole as his starter.

The hometown crowd, contending with chilly winds coming off Lake Pontchartrain, were treated to an entertaining game that involved five home runs.

The Zephyrs got off to great start in the first inning when Matt Mieske hit a home run in his fourth straight game. John Finn, who had singled, also scored on Mieske’s homer.

Buffalo put up its first score in the third inning on a solo home run by Jose Sandoval.

Buffalo took the lead in the fourth then they added two more runs on a home run by Glenn Wilson with Gary Cooper on base, making the score 3-2.

The Bisons scored four more in the fifth inning, including Wilson’s second home run of the day.

The Zephyrs closed the gap in the sixth on Tom Lampkin’s two-run home run, resulting in a 7-4 score.

Behind the eight-ball in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Zephyrs tied the game with three runs.

The score remained tied, 7-7, until the top of the 12th inning. With two outs, Russ Mormon doubled in Wilson for the game-winning run.

Wilson was the Bisons’ star of the game, going 3-for-5 with 3 runs and 4 RBIs. Mike Zimmerman was credited with his first win of the season, while the Zephyrs’ Garland Kiser took the loss.

The Z’s ended the season with a respectable 80-64 record, good for second place in the league’s West Division, five games behind the Iowa Cubs. The Zephyrs’ attendance for the season was 161,846. Although Dikeou negotiated the option to play 15 of the team’s home games in the Superdome, the Zephyrs never played a game there.

The team moved to the new 10,000-seat Zephyr Field in Metairie for the 1997 season.

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