Zephyr Field ready for gameday

Staff work hard to get the stadium into shape after Katrina

(New Orleans Zephyrs)

By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com | April 3, 2006 3:13 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Todd Wilson is a young man in his mid-20s, a bundle of energy who has a hard time sitting still, even for an interview.

That's a good thing considering everything he's had to oversee this offseason as the Director of Stadium Operations for the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Like most of the Zephyrs staff, Wilson got out of New Orleans and didn't return to the city until six weeks or so after Hurricane Katrina hit. He had seen pictures of what Zephyr Field looked like, but wasn't sure exactly what he'd encounter once he got back to inspect the damage himself.

"When I came back, from far away, it didn't look too bad," Wilson said. "It's when you got up close and started looking at the details you realized you had a lot of work to do."

Amazingly, most of the work has been done. Zephyr Field will be operational when the club hosts the Round Rock Express for the start of its Pacific Coast League season. There were two things working in the Zephyrs favor: a commitment from the owner and time.

"Kudos goes out to our owner, Don Beaver, who instantly -- without even seeing the place -- said, 'Let's get it ready to go and play ball, get this season going,'" Wilson said. "Other professional sports franchises were hit harder than we were. We had time on our hands, given that the hurricane literally ended our season. So we had from that time on to look forward to April 6."

Now that it's almost here, Wilson and the Zephyrs staff are working even harder to bring things up to snuff. The suite level and press box area suffered a fair amount of water damage, so the area was gutted and new walls, floors and paint were put in. The main scoreboard in center field was hit pretty hard; a new one has been installed and will be hooked up shortly in time for the opener. Sound system repairs are happening now.

Some work will be on-going. The metal roof, the overhang atop the top deck of the stadium will be put back up over the next few weeks. The Zephyrs were helped by the fact that the field itself wasn't damaged.

"A lot of the little stuff was taken care of," Wilson said. "The seats are all locked down, the grass is green and we're going to be playing ball here very shortly."

There actually already has been ball played in Zephyr Field. The Tulane baseball program has called it home this season, with hurricane damage too much to overcome on campus. The Green Wave's arrival has certainly been taxing for the Zephyrs staff, but it's also been beneficial.

"It's actually a blessing in disguise," Wilson said. "It's more work because we've had 40 games added to our schedule on top of the 72 we already play, but it gave us another six weeks to go through the motions of the gameday stuff. Gameday staffing, those guys are ready to go.

"Our attendance is going to be quite a bit higher than the college games, but I think it will help us in the long run."

Minor League club staffs often tend to be a tight-knit group, with just about every member wearing a variety of hats to keep things running as smoothly as possible. It's not uncommon to see a PR director unrolling a tarp before a game or a general manager helping out with ticket sales.

Nowhere has this been truer than in New Orleans. The sheer amount of work needed made that essential and the Zephyrs are actually less staffed than they were a year ago. Many, particularly gameday staff, have relocated, forcing everyone to roll up their sleeves even more than usual.

"Everyone has worked extremely hard on this," Wilson said. "If it weren't for the efforts of the staff, it wouldn't be possible."

It is this work ethic that has made Wilson so confident throughout this process. Not surprisingly, he never once has wavered in his belief in the Zephyrs' ability to pull this off, to ensure the home of the only professional sports team to play all season in New Orleans would be ready to go.

"There was no doubt in my mind we would be able to play ball and host 10-12,000 out here for opening night," Wilson said. "Did I think everything would be 100 percent? No. And we're not going to be 100 percent on Opening Day, but we're good to go and we're ready to play ball. It's going to be a great thing for the city.

"I would have to say opening weekend, it's going to be slammed here. It's going to look great. I think opening night is going to be a really huge crowd. It's going to be packed. I'm looking forward to it."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More