Following a very unpleasant experience at the hotel last evening, we spent far too much of the morning dealing with the aftermath. The wasted effort was carved out of time originally dedicated to exploring New Orleans. Undaunted, we checked out of the hotel and headed for the French Quarter.
1. New Orleans
Arriving at the French Quarter around 900 am, we surprisingly found parking fairly quickly. That was fortuitous, since we were slated to see a New Orleans Baby Cakes game starting at 1100 am. With little time to spare, we lit out to explore the area. Of course, we probably visited the French Quarter at the precisely wrong time to get a flavor for the place. Instead, we decided to take in the architecture unique to this part of the world.
With relatively few people wandering the streets this time of day, we were able to cover a good amount of ground in short order. I found myself fascinated by the local architecture, which seemed to meld the Art Deco of Miami with baroque feel of Paris or Montreal. Much of the activity this time of day consisted of restaurant or bar employees hosing off sidewalks, and delivery people restocking for the day.
A couple of blocks from the Mississippi River we encountered some churches. Each church appeared to be more ornate than the last. Not being a religious person, I don’t share the same spiritual connection to the church as others, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the architecture of the building. Something about the ornate design fascinates me, as though a story was being told by the structure itself.
In the time we had remaining, we walked down to the Mississippi River. New Orleans is the fourth location along the Mississippi that we have visited (the others being St Paul MN, St Louis MO, and Memphis TN), and each has its own charms. Following a wet and snowy winter upstream, the river was higher than normal, but the flow was gentle. There was little activity on the river (due primarily to the time of day), but it doesn’t take much to imagine it busy with commerce and pleasure crafts.
Game time was approaching rapidly, and admittedly we spent little time in this very special place. From the little we sampled, it was clear that there was much more than needs to be explored. New Orleans beckons for a longer stay, and I hope to do that in the near future.
2. Shrine on Airline
Fortunately for us, the ballpark was only about 20 minutes from the French Quarter, and we arrived early enough to walk around the ballpark before game time. The Baby Cakes hosted the Oklahoma City Dodgers (the Triple A affiliate of the LA Dodgers) at Shrine on Airline, located down the street from New Orleans International Airport.
The 1100 am game time is typical for get-away days for minor league teams. With the game ending around 200 pm, it allows teams to travel to their next destination at a reasonable time. When we made plans for this game, it was supposed to be the second game we saw here on this trip. However, the rainout the previous day left us this last chance to see the ballpark before moving on to Houston.
We didn’t know it at the time, but this WOULD be our last chance to see the ballpark (at least for the foreseeable future). Following the 2019 season, the Baby Cakes moved to Wichita, Kansas, becoming the Wind Surge for the 2020 Pacific Coast League season. New Orleans is seeking another minor league team, but there are no immediate plans to bring baseball back to the Big Easy.
After entering the ballpark, we conducted our typical trip around the stadium. Walking around, taking in the park, we got the feel of a modular stadium. The facilities seemed minimal, and while the ballpark holds 10,000 fans, it had more of a Double A stadium feel. The 1100 am start time resulted in a sparse crowd (which is typical). Many of the fans were members of local schools and clubs (also typical of an 1100 am start). The light attendance made the stadium feel nearly empty as the first pitch was thrown.
The starting pitcher for the OKC Dodgers was left hander Manny Bañuelos. The name was not familiar to me, but it was clear early that he brought his best stuff with him to the mound. Bañuelos allowed no run and no hits in four innings of work, striking out nine. Despite the great start, he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the fifth.
We have seen this in minor league games many times before. Players (especially pitchers) having a great game are suddenly and inexplicably removed. It has been our experience that minor league managers are more interested in evaluating talent than adhering strictly to game situations (seemingly at the behest of the parent club). For the Baby Cakes (the Triple A affiliate of the Miami Marlins), starter Sandy Alcantara (who would be promoted to the patent club not long after this appearance) nearly matched Bañuelos pitch for pitch, allowing one run on five hits in 5 2/3 innings.
The Baby Cakes scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth, breaking a 1-1 tie. They held on for a 3-1 victory, though the Dodgers threatened in the ninth, scoring one run and leaving runners at first and second as the game ended. Since we had miles to cover before our next stop, we did not linger long after the game ended. Though the stadium was “cookie cutter”, not distinguished from stadiums like across Minor League Baseball, I was glad we visited the Shrine on Airline, especially since the Baby Cakes have left New Orleans.
Our next stop was Houston, a trip Google Maps depicted as a five and one-half hour drive. The drive was fairly easy, as we would miss the commute in New Orleans leaving in the early afternoon, and arriving in Houston as evening fell. The entire trip had us on Interstate 10, a highway on which we had never traveled. The trip was eye opening in that much of the roadway was over the bayou of southern Louisiana, a place we’d never been. By the time we arrived in Houston, I was tired enough for just a light dinner, followed by an early bedtime.