When we last heard from the former New Orleans Zephyrs, our Triple A minor league baseball team, they had been renamed as the Baby Cakes. After hearing fan reaction to what was supposed to be a locally endearing name change they decided that maybe it would be better to move to Wichita. There they found new happiness in a town that was willing to spend $75 million on a new ballpark, supposedly the best facility in the minor leagues, and to embrace the new team at the box office. Oh, and there would be a new name for the franchise. The team, which started its existence as the Denver Zephyrs and then became the New Orleans Zephyrs before being renamed as the Baby Cakes would become – get ready – The Wichita Wind Surge.
Now in real life it would take a magician of Merlinesque powers to transform a Baby Cake into a Wind Surge, but in minor league baseball that sort of thing happens all the time, with each new owner or each new move to a different town. (A dramatic example came in 2003 when the Calgary, Alberta Cannons moved to New Mexico and became the Albuquerque Isotopes.)
Wind Surge is a hard name to identify with, in the same way that someone might relate to a Tiger, Yankee, Giant, or Pirate, all of which at least have hearts, but there may at least be a subtle significance to the name “Zephyr,” which was the franchise’s original name is a term for a west wind common to the Rocky Mountains. So, twice during its existence the franchise has been named after a wind event of some sort. (Also, twice during its existence has the franchise moved to a new town, in effect going with the wind.)
Minor League baseball exists as a stage for young males trying to live the American dream of making it to the big leagues. The New Orleans franchise (though located near the Gulf of Mexico) played in the Pacific Coast League. The team was a farm club of the Miami Marlins, which provided the players.
When the franchise moved to town, a new stadium was built off Airline Highway brilliantly using refinanced Superdome bonds. For several years the team did well in attendance but then that stated to wane. The name change to Baby Cakes did nothing to improve fan loyalty although it did put the franchise briefly in first place for the sale of souvenir items with the rebranded name.
But then it was announced that the team was going to move to Wichita.
As the 2020 season neared, Wichita workers hurried to complete the new ballpark. A sure sign of the excitement was that the opening night home game, against the Memphis Red Birds, sold out in 44 minutes.
Things looked great for baseball in Wichita, until June 30. That was the day of THE announcement. “Major League baseball,” as though the words echoed through every field of dreams, “would not be providing players to minor league baseball for the 2020 season.” Once more the damn virus had thrown a curve.
According to science, it is possible to play baseball without fans, never, however, has the game been played without players. In effect the season was cancelled across the continent including for two other franchises that had just completed new ball parks; the Fredricksburg Nationals and the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers.
So, with reference to the question in the headline, what is worse than being called a Baby Cake? Being a former Baby Cake on a team that will not be playing this summer.
We know in sports that there is always next year, and the Wind Surge owners were quick to assure that the franchise would take the field in 2021 and that the team has a 30 year lease with the stadium. (The players who will be on the squad toward the end of the lease will have not been born yet this year.) In a press announcement Wind Surge owner Lou Schwechheimer said, “although the coronavirus was a tough time, these next three decades are going to be magical.”
Merlin, we trust, will still be doing his part.
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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