METAIRIE — Workers were installing a brand new state-of-the-art scoreboard at Zephyr Field on Monday.
Others were sprucing up the place, making sure everything was nice and neat and in order. Company is coming. And not just any company, either.
The New Orleans Zephyrs organization spent this week getting ready to host its “parent” company, the Miami Marlins, for an exhibition game at the end of spring training. The Zephyrs, the Triple-A team of the Marlins, will play the big league Marlins at 1 p.m. Saturday at Zephyr Field.
It is the first time since 1999 that a Major League Baseball team will play in New Orleans. That year, the Zephyrs hosted their then-parent Houston Astros in an exhibition game.
This time, it’s the Fighting Fish.
Zephyrs and Marlins officials said the teams will break spring training Friday and fly to New Orleans for Saturday’s game. After the game, those players assigned to the minor league Zephyrs will remain. Some others may then head back to Florida to join the Jacksonville Suns, the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate. Those who have made the Marlins roster will fly up to Washington to take on the Nationals on opening day Tuesday. The Zephyrs open their season April 4 at Nashville. The home opener is April 12 against Round Rock.
Marlins Director of Player Development Brian Chattin said both rosters should be set before Saturday’s game.
“That’s the plan,” Chattin said. “Everybody should know where they’re going after the game.”
The Marlins roster already includes locals Wade LeBlanc, the left-handed pitcher fom Barbe High School, and Slidell’s own Logan Morrison. Morrison, who prepped at Northshore, is recovering from offseason knee surgery and will not make the trip, however.
A fan favorite who will make the trip is former LSU shortstop Austin Nola. The Baton Rouge native is now an up-and-coming prospect in the Marlins organization. After being drafted in the fifth round last June, Nola spent a few months with the Jamestown Jammers before being promoted to the Single-A Greensboro Grasshoppers. He likely will be sent to the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate, the Jacksonville Suns, after Saturday’s game.
But Saturday, he’ll suit up for the Marlins.
Chattin said it was virtually a no-brainer to bring Nola back to NOLA.
“In exhibition games such as this, it’s common to bring a couple of extra players to give us some depth,” Chattin said. “Austin is a player that was a definite fit. He’s from there. He went to LSU and he’s a talented player.”
The decision was fine with Nola.
“It’s awesome to be able to go home and see so many family and friends who support me,” Nola said. “I’ve had a lot of good people in and around New Orleans who have helped me.”
The Zephyrs roster is set to include outfielder Bryan Petersen, who will mark his fourth opening day with the Zephyrs, and right-handed pitcher Tom Koehler, marking his third opening day in a Zephyrs uniform.
Zephyrs general manager Mike Schline said Chattin approached him about the game several months ago at the winter meetings in Dallas. Chattin said the Marlins schedule left a gap between Thursday’s spring training finale and Tuesday’s season opener.
“That’s a long layoff,” he said.
After discussing the financials and other particulars, the clubs agreed to the date.
“We had a feeling that we’d be able to sell it,” Schline said. “The interest was there.”
By midweek Schline said about 7,000 tickets had been sold.
“The goal is always a sellout, of course,” Schline said.
Tickets are $12 for the upper level and $14 for the lower level. Gates open at 11 a.m.