When we last had a chance to see the former New Orleans Baby Cakes in person in 2019 they were playing their final games on Airline Highway. The franchise, it was announced, was relocating to Wichita, Kansas where community leaders were already building a new ballpark.
There was a time when the Airline Highway stadium, formerly known as Zephyrs Field after the franchise’s original name, was also the product of community largesse, including refinancing bonds from the Superdome to build a new facility. In 2017, the franchise decided it would be a good idea to change its name to help ticket sales. There was community debate, but the community lost. Management decided on Baby Cakes, which is apparently what out-of-of owners think is a King Cake. No longer Zephyrs, the stadium was referred to instead as the “Shrine on Airline,” though there was no worship at this shrine for the word “baby” applied to a grown-up baseball team. (Still around was the lovable nutria mascot, Boudreaux, who had nothing to do with either Zephyrs or Baby Cakes.)
Minor League baseball is a charming but fickle sport. Franchises tend to frequently jump around moving to other communities which see the game as family friendly and good for economic development, though the later assumption is not always realized.
Meanwhile, the people in Wichita were excited to get New Orleans’ baseball team, which would be renamed (also after much community debate) the “Wind Surge.” The team had been designated as Triple-A, meaning its players were at the next highest rung before the major leagues, and played in the Pacific Coast League, hardly geographically correct but then neither was New Orleans.
As opening day for the 2020 season in Wichita approached things began to change dramatically. First, there was the coronavirus pandemic. While the major leagues ultimately saved part of their season including a World Series (the Los Angeles Dodgers won), minor league baseball was totally canceled for the season.
And then the team owner, a man who had led the drive for the franchise and the stadium, suddenly died. That was a blow to the spirit.
Next, the lords of minor league baseball, having lots of free time, began looking at their sport and decided it needed reworking. Several Triple-A teams, including Wichita, were changed to the Double-A category playing in a new division called the Central League.
As had happened with the Baby Cakes, the Wichita fans did not like the name Wind Surge and there was even a drive to try to get rid of it. Management, no doubt mindful of its marketing efforts nevertheless kept the name.
A former Baby Cakes fan who happens to be in Wichita this coming May 11 would not recognize the old franchise, which is different in location, name, classification and league. But he might appreciate a bit of historic irony: The Wind Surge will make their debut playing a team with an even worse name than Baby Cakes. Yes, it is true:
Here we change the scene for a moment to Amarillo, Texas where a minor league team, the San Antonio Missions, relocated in 2019. There was much discussion about what to call the relocated team. A popular choice among fans was the Prairie Dogs, which are found scampering in great numbers in the plains around Amarillo. That name, however, had already been used by a now defunct team in Abilene. Then someone discovered an obscure local colloquialism for prairie dogs. As we have seen in other places, there was fan resistance, but the name caught on with the front office. Thus, the baseball world witnessed the arrival of the most unusual name in baseball, if not all sports.
Get ready, here it is:
The AMARILLO SOD POODLES
Yep, that’s right. Prairie dogs/sod poodles—get it? For short, it is considered appropriate to refer to the team as the” Soddies.”
Now back to Wichita where the Wind Surge is scheduled to play its first home game ever on May 11. And, as though to prove there is a cosmic force in baseball, the opening night team will be Amarillo.
So, the franchise formerly known as the Baby Cakes will begin its new life playing the Sod Poodles.
What hurts is that had the Baby Cakes not relocated we might have witnessed this spectacle at the Shrine on Airline. As aggressive as Sod Poodles can be, we would have still had Boudreaux the Nutria on our side.
A DIFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Apparently, there is little middle-ground in deciding between good and bad names for sports franchises. What we called worst was recently selected as Best in a Twitter poll conducted by Fox Sports News. According to the Chicago Tribune, when asked to pick their favorite minor league baseball franchise names readers selected the Amarillo Sod Poodles first. Texas dominated this question. Second place went to the El Paso Chihuahuas. There is a sudden surge caused by controversial name changes. When the Zephyrs changed to Baby Cakes the local franchise led the league that season in franchise brand item sales. It was a victory at the cash register if not at home plate.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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