Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Bye Bye Baby Cakes

           A few weeks ago, we explored the history of the original New Orleans Pelicans—the minor league baseball team that played in New Orleans for over 75 years. While the Pelicans left for good in 1977, baseball fans in the Big Easy only had to wait until 1993 to get a new professional team—the Zephyrs. The Zephyrs, who came to New Orleans from Denver, set up shop first in New Orleans at Privateer Field, home of UNO’s baseball team, before settling at the Shrine on Arline in Metairie in 1997. In 2017, they changed their name from the Zephyrs to the Baby Cakes. Last week, the Baby Cakes that they would be leaving New Orleans for a new stadium in Wichita, Kansas, once again leaving baseball fans in New Orleans without a team for the foreseeable future. 

            Last Thursday, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell announced that the city would construct a brand new $73 million stadium with the Baby Cakes as its tenant. It is not clear when the stadium will be complete and the move still requires the approval of Minor League Baseball and the Pacific Coast League. The earliest the team could move would be after the 2019 season. The Baby Cakes’ lease at the Shrine on Airline runs through 2021, but the team hopes to negotiate an early exit. 

The Shrine on Airline

            The Baby Cakes are the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. It is unclear with the move to Wichita whether they will retain that affiliation or switch to another franchise. The Baby Cakes ranked 21stout of 30 Triple-A teams in attendance in 2017. Additionally, the team plays in the 16 team Pacific Coast League, requiring an extensive amount of travel west. Geographically, the league extends from California to Tennessee and Washington to Louisiana. Unlike major league teams who travel by plane, Triple-A teams travel by bus. A relocation to Wichita will make travel quicker and cheaper for the Baby Cakes. Relocation is also a reality of life in minor league baseball. Mid-size cities like Wichita build new stadiums and lure teams away from their current homes. Then the new abandoned city goes looking for a replacement, setting in motion a big game of musical chairs. In the end, at least one city winds up with a stadium, but no team. The Zephyrs had spent 37 years in Denver and 53 years in Kansas City before settling in the Big Easy. In terms on minor league franchises, that is a remarkable run of stability. 

Mayor Longwell said in his press conference that he does not expect the team to retain the Baby Cakes moniker. The name, which came into existence in 2017, has never been particularly popular. In 2016, the then-Zephyrs undertook an effort to rename the team to something more fitting to New Orleans’ culture. The Zephyrs had been the team’s name in Denver and had few ties to Louisiana—apart from sharing the name of a famed rollercoaster at Pontchartrain Beach. Name choices included the Baby Cakes, Crawfish, King Cakes, Night Owls, Po’boys, Red Eyes, and Tailgators. The team eventually selected Baby Cakes as the new name. The name was derived from the plastic baby found in Mardi Gras king cakes. Many fans, however, were confused or annoyed by the name since no one in New Orleans refers to a king cake as a “baby cake.” Additionally, the team logo and mascot are creepy looking. 

That thing is creepy looking

The Advocate reported that a group of New Orleans businessmen is interested in buying a Double-A franchise in the Southern League and relocating it to New Orleans. The Southern League is much more geographically narrow than the Pacific Coast League with teams in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. It is unclear which team the New Orleans group would be interested in purchasing or whether any Southern League owner is willing to sell. Additionally, the state would likely have to pay for some upgrades to the Shrine on Airline to entice a team to move. For right now, however, the fate of professional baseball in New Orleans remains unclear. 

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