Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Bye Bye Baby Cakes & What Comes Next

            The New Orleans Baby Cakes, the AAA affiliate of the Miami Marlins, played their last home game at the Shrine on Airline on August 29. They lost 8-5. The loss marks the end of professional baseball in New Orleans—at least for the time being. The Baby Cakes are moving to Wichita, Kansas. Currently, there is no new tenant for the Shrine on Airline for next season. 

            The Baby Cakes arrived in New Orleans in 1993, when they were known as the Zephyrs. The Zephyrs arrival returned professional baseball to New Orleans for the first time since 1977 when the New Orleans Pelicans left town after 90 years in New Orleans. While the Zephyrs came from Denver, their name had local roots as well. The Zephyr was a famous rollercoaster at the Pontchartrain Beach amusement park before it closed in 1983. In 2017, the team rebranded as the Baby Cakes following the trend of other minor leagues who sought quirky nicknames—see the Hartford Yard Goats, the Akron Rubber Ducks, the Rocket City Trash Pandas, and the El Paso Chihuahuas. 

            The reasons for the Baby Cakes departure are myriad. The name change was never popular amongst locals. While ostensibly named after the baby found in king cakes, there is no such thing as a baby cake. Additionally, the mascot (pictured below) looks like the villain of a low-rent Stephen King novel. It’s something that would haunt your fever dreams rather than get you to cheer for the local sports team.  

The Shrine on Airline is also in need of desperate repair. SMG, the firm that manages the stadium, and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) would have to raise the millions of dollars necessary to cover the upgrades. There is at least $3 million available in funds from the state, but that is only about half of the estimated cost of overhauling the facility. An SMG representative said, “It likely would be a significant improvement for whoever is in there. If there's an opportunity to have a team replace the Baby Cakes that could be successful in the market, we would like to understand what that team would need to be successful.” When the Baby Cakes announced they were leaving at the end of 2018, team officials were hopeful of bringing in a AA Southern League franchise as a replacement. No such deal, however, has materialized.  

Additionally, the Baby Cakes have yet to void their lease for the Shrine on Airline for next season. Their new home in Wichita is not complete and isn’t expected to be finished until January. So there remains a small chance that the Baby Cakes will be back in 2020. But local officials don’t seem too happy about the prospect. It is hard to sell a new franchise on taking over the stadium when the old team hasn’t left yet. The chairman of the LSED has written to the team asking for a departure date.  As he wrote, "Unfortunately, the team’s inaction has created a great deal of uncertainty and … has resulted in the loss of potential revenue for LSED." 

With the Baby Cakes set to leave, whenever that may be, there may not be an appetite for professional baseball in New Orleans. The LSED has explored whether to convert the Shrine on Airline for soccer or rugby use. Attendance for the Baby Cakes has declined for the last few years and there’s plenty of college baseball—LSU, Tulane, UNO, and Delgado—for local fans. August 29, 2019 may have been the end of professional baseball in Louisiana for the foreseeable future. 

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