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Inside: A Diamond in the Rough

There is a corner in New Orleans that has contributed more to the American language than maybe any other corner in the country, but few people know about it. That corner is N.  Carrollton Avenue and Banks Street. (The block, which is located across Carrollton from Jesuit High School, is now mostly residential.)

There was once a baseball stadium there, the home of the New Orleans Pelicans. Founded in 1897, the team became a member of the minor league Southern Association in 1901. In its early years, the franchise was operated by Abner Powell, a former big league ball player whose real mark on the game would be his ideas. One innovation was to make the game more attractive to women, whose presence would in turn make the environment more savory and family-friendly than just a collection of cigar smokin’, tobacco chewin’, cussin’ men. So Powell created Ladies Day on which the women could get into the game for free. The concept caught on and no doubt influenced other industries, such as barrooms, that wanted to expand their clientele.

Rain was always a threat during New Orleans summers, and here Powell was at his most brilliant. To prevent puddles from forming on the field during a sudden shower, he conceptualized the infield tarpaulin, an expansive piece of canvas large enough to cover a ball diamond, which would be pulled over the field by brawny workers. Rain also created problems with the fans, who were reluctant to pay money only to see the game called off because of downpours. Powell pondered the problem and came up with the idea of putting a statement on the admission ticket saying that, in the event of a rain out, it would be redeemable for admission to another game. He called the ticket a “rain-check.” That term is now part of the language in many ways, including as an excuse not to do something (“I’ll take a rain-check on that”).

Our collection of historical pictures includes a shot of Heinemann Park, to which the Pelicans moved in 1915, only a short distance away at North Carrollton and Tulane avenues. Powell’s innovations followed. We can safely assume that many rain checks were saved to be cashed in, even on Ladies Day, once the tarpaulin was pulled.

All of the photos have stories, but let us also remember the stories for the places that no longer exist, like the old ballpark. Baseball has enriched the language, and by recalling its contributions we are, at least, “touching base” with the game’s legacy.


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