The start of baseball season this month for the New Orleans Zephyrs opens a new chapter in the history of the Triple-A, minor league team. During the off-season, the team became the affiliate of the New York Mets – a major league team that Zephyrs officials say is bringing major league resources and clout to the local club.
Triple-A affiliates such as the Zephyrs give their major league counterparts a place to develop new talent and work injured players back into the line-up. The Zephyrs have had several different major league affiliations in recent years, the most recent being a brief partnership with the Washington Nationals from 2005-‘06, but the Mets represent the team’s most high profile partner yet.
Zephyrs’ general manager Mike Schline says the new arrangement is good news for fans because the Mets have a more stable player roster and that should translate to a more stable, and hopefully better-performing, affiliate team.
“The Mets are a very well stocked major league team. That means they’ll be able to stockpile their talent in their Triple-A affiliate,” he says.
The Zephyrs began playing in New Orleans in 1993, after being pushed out of Denver by the major league expansion of the Colorado Rockies. New Orleans lawyer and entrepreneur Rob Couhig led the New Orleans effort and the state built a new ballpark to accommodate them along Airline Highway that was renovated after Hurricane Katrina.
During their 14 years playing in New Orleans, the Zephyrs have fielded players who went on to be stars with the Milwaukee Brewers, the Houston Astros and the Nationals. The team also has a unique Mets connection: Ron Swoboda, color analyst for the Zephyrs (and former contributor to New Orleans Magazine), is a former Mets World Series star.
The Mets’ major league resources are being put to use outside of the ballpark as well. Even before the affiliation with the Zephyrs, the New York team donated a total of $650,000 to hurricane recovery efforts in the area. In February, the Mets donated $20,000 to the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation to help rebuild playgrounds in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
“The Mets really want to be involved in New Orleans,” says Schline. “I think they’re going to be active in this community.”
The Zephyrs play their first home game of the 2007 season April 13.