The sidewalk outside of Roberts Bar was full at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday.
The sun splashed into the Calhoun Street dive — located across Claiborne Avenue from Tulane University — as patrons stood shoulder-to-shoulder adorning some variation of purple, green or gold.
But this wasn’t Mardi Gras. This was a pregame bash for Tulane baseball when LSU made its annual visit Uptown.
And on Tuesday night, there was an undeniable renewal of passion perched alongside the tradition. For the first time in nearly 10 years, the No. 20 Green Wave and the No. 8 Tigers entered the midweek rivalry ranked in the top 25.
Tulane was also gunning for its first season sweep of LSU since 2007 after defeating the Tigers 7-1 at Alex Box Stadium on March 29. And considering LSU had taken nine of the previous 10 matchups in the series entering this season, the Green Wave’s recent upswing stoked longtime fans, who gobbled up the $30 tickets at a rate rarely seen since Tulane brought the game back to its renovated stadium in 2008.
The game was announced as a hard sellout by Tulane’s athletic department Thursday afternoon. It marked the first advanced sell out at Turchin Stadium since 5,131 people paid to see LSU’s 7-5 victory in 2011.
The past few seasons typically came close to filling the stadium’s 5,000 seats, Tulane officials said, but it was usually the result of a significant walk-up crowd. This year, Tulane’s ticket sales staff was merely handling will call.
“Having a full house — and I think you see a lot more green here tonight — is a great testament to the efforts of coach (David) Pierce, his staff and most importantly this group of young men,” Tulane executive associate athletic director Brandon MacNeill said. “There is a tremendous amount of passion for college baseball in Louisiana and I’m thrilled we get to show off this beautiful park in front of a nationally televised audience (on the CBS Sports Network).”
It was a reminder of the series’ heyday, when both programs were mainstays in the NCAA tournament. LSU and Tulane routinely sold 10,000-plus tickets at Zephyr Field and also broke the NCAA baseball attendance record in 2002, drawing 27,673 fans to the Superdome.
On Tuesday night, it was apparent some of the rivalry’s passion had reignited. By 4 p.m., tailgaters had taken over the Rosen Lot beyond the right-field fence with grills, smokers and coolers and various Calhoun Street restaurants filled with customers.
Even LSU fans said they could feel a rejuvenated home fan base.
“They have a good ballclub this year, and I think that only adds to the atmosphere,” LSU fan Tim Landry from Metairie said. “I come out here every year, and I used to go to the games on Airline, and it’s definitely more fun when they can come back at you a little bit and the talking goes both ways. Of course I pull for LSU, but it’s good to see teams in the state playing well and getting supported.”
The 6 p.m. start left some pockets of empty seats when new Tulane basketball coach Mike Dunleavy threw out the ceremonial first pitch, but it filled in by the early innings making for the type of night Green Wave officials hope they see more often.
While the excitement of the longstanding rivalry is obvious, Tulane hopes it can also persuade many in the sold out crowd to attend this weekend’s American Athletic Conference series against Houston and the final month of the season.
“We have had much better single game sales this year, and with a huge series this weekend, I’m hopeful our fans will come back,” MacNeill said. “We have a great team. It’s very family-friendly, and the support means so much to our players.”