Cooler temperature doesn’t diminish opening day for Zephyrs’ faithful _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER -- A lucky fan catches a ball during the New Orleans Zephyrs vs. Omaha Storm Chasers baseball game on Opening Day at Zephyrs Field in Metairie on Friday, April 15, 2016.

Jennifer Konnecker appeared to be at a football game in November instead of the New Orleans Zephyrs’ home opener against Omaha on Friday.

It was a night game, and the 68-degree temperatures felt colder with a 17 mile-per-hour wind blowing from right to left. However, Konnecker wouldn’t have dreamed of missing her first chance to see the Z’s, she said.

“I was not prepared for cold weather for baseball season, so this is kind of bizarre for weather for opening day,” said Konnecker, who wore a hooded jacket, hands in her pockets. “But it’s opening day! Baseball season is here. We’ve been waiting for something since football season.”

The weather obviously affected the size of the crowd. Friday nights are a big draw because of the postgame fireworks display, but the stadium was about half-full, if that.

David Messick, who is in his 10th year as a beer vendor at the stadium, seemed concerned. He had sold just two brews by game time when he usually is past a half-case by that time, he said.

“The (sale of) beer has been more sketchy, but the water and the peanuts pick up because of the children,” he said. “But everybody is still so happy.”

With balmy weather, Friday was for the faithful, and there were a number of them, too. A free jersey give away had a relatively long line forming as early as 4:30 p.m.

“I always come to opening day,” said Audrey Beach, who has lived in Metairie for eight years since moving from the San Francisco area. “I’m a baseball fan, and this is the closest thing to (Major League) baseball.

“I came early because I want a jersey. I missed one by four people last year, so, this year I was determined to get a jersey.”

Beach said she was interested in seeing the changes on the team, and that provided an air of optimism and intrigue.

Clifton Chouest of Raceland, an hour’s drive from Zephyr Field, was attending his first live professional baseball game with three other family members. The weather didn’t dampen his spirits, and his family took advantage of a promotion that provided tickets, food and drinks at a reasonable price.

“I’m excited,” he said.

For David Van Slyke, coming to the first game is like a rite of spring. Van Slyke is from upstate New York, he said, and for the past 38 years, he’s been at some team’s home opener, usually that of a minor league team. Going to Fan Appreciation Day last week got him even more interested, he said.

“We got to meet players and shake hands and speak with them, and that’s what we like about it,” said Van Slyke, whose wife, Debra, is from New Orleans. “I hope they do better than they did last year.

“They have a new manager, and a new general manager, too, Cookie (Rojas). So, we hope they have a good season this year.”

The team entered Zephyr Field after an eight-game road trip to start the season. Outfielder Isaac Galloway said that doesn’t diminish the home opener.

“We started off on the road and tried to get off to a good start, but there’s something about the first home game that’s exciting,” he said.

Cold or not.