On the first day of the major-league baseball strike a crowd of 2,809 gathered on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain for a game between the New Orleans Zephyrs and the Buffalo Bisons.
There was plenty of competition for the Friday night entertainment dollar. Uptown, Rockin' Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters were playing at the Maple Leaf Bar, and Lush led the bill at Tipitina's. In the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, bands were cranking it out at every corner nightclub, more music than seems humanly possible in a city of a half-million people.But baseball was a bigger draw than usual on this particular evening. There were no cable telecasts of the Braves, Cubs, White Sox, Astros or Rangers. It was a throwback to the days when the New Orleans Pelicans of the old Southern Association were the only game in town and big-league baseball was represented by the distant voice of Harry Caray calling the Cardinals on KMOX in St. Louis.
An afternoon rain disappeared into the twilight, and a cool breeze - one could say it was zephyr-like - blew from the lake. The crowd, containing an inordinate number of youngsters with their parents, was splayed down both foul lines, sitting on the backless benches of a ballpark owned by the University of New Orleans.
The outfield fence was decorated with advertisements for Jack Daniel's, four different brands of beer, a casino, the lottery and Tabasco sauce. This is, after all, New Orleans.
The city has a National Football League franchise and nearly regained a National Basketball Association team this summer, but big-league baseball never seriously considered New Orleans. Some would say the City That Care Forgot is too small, with too many diversions. Since baseball embodies spring and new life after long winters, it is an underappreciated sport here, where there really is no winter.
But baseball, albeit Triple-A, was appreciated Friday night. The Zephyrs' pitcher, Scott Taylor, a big right-hander with 10 wins, struggled in the first inning but escaped without giving up a run. In the bottom half of the inning, the home team scraped up a run on a two-out triple and a scratch single.
A lucky number contest was conducted between innings, the first of several events to keep the fans involved. The custom was pioneered in the Southern Association in the 1950s by the Chattanooga Lookouts. They used to pick a lucky fan to haul home all the money that could be pulled from a pot of coins and greenbacks in a matter of seconds.
The game progressed at a languid pace. A trivia contest in the fourth inning asked the name of the team that had the best record in the 1981 strike season but was denied a place in the playoffs because of a split season. A few folks remembered that it was Cincinnati.
About this time, fans began to notice that Taylor still had not given up a hit. When a hard grounder was bobbled by the New Orleans shortsop, Mark Loretta, there were sighs of relief among the cognoscenti when it was ruled an error.
In the top of the sixth, Loretta redeemed himself with a backhanded stop of a vicious one-hopper and started a 6-4-3 double-play to end the inning.
The crowd was treated to an "Izzy Dizzy" contest. Three fans spun around like dervishes for a minute, then tried to run from home to third base. They looked as though they had come from Bourbon Street; two fell to the ground, and the other lurched drunkenly ahead to claim the prize.
In the bottom of the inning, New Orleans pieced together two more runs. Ozzie Canseco, Jose's brother, got one RBI when he was hit with a pitch with the bases loaded.
An Army recruiter prowled the grandstand, handing out plastic tote bags with the slogan "Be All You Can Be."