by Alejandro de los Rios

Anyone who was conscious between 5 and 7 last night witnessed a patented New Orleans downpour. While most people did the sensible thing and stayed inside, a dozen or so media folk trekked out to Zephyrs Field.

Baseball? You may ask. How is it anyone could play baseball yesterday?

Well the storm came and went and, though voluminous, the rains couldn't drown the Zephyrs brand-new $1.2 million field — at least the part in between the foul lines. In all fairness, though, the field drained impressively and it took a second glance to confirm that yes, it is indeed real grass.

But the real wonder of the night wasn't that the Zephyrs players could go out and actually hold a practice, but that there was actually a small smattering of fans in attendance.

OK, maybe "smattering" is a bit generous. It was four people. But four devoted people nonetheless.

From left to right, Stuart Casey, with mother Jeanne Casey and aunt Jackie Casey have been coming to Zephyrs games since Stu was just a boy (not pictured is John Vollenweider, but I'll get to him later.)

"I come here because of him," Jackie said, pointing at Stu. "We've been doing this since he was 11. Soon he'll get his license and he'll drive himself."

Not that Jackie wasn't enjoying herself. And who wouldn't sitting in damp seats with a possible flash-downpour looming overhead? Seriously, this group was all smiles the entire time and told me I should read the season preview that ran in some local publication this week.

"It was a really nice story," Jackie said.

Then there's John J. Vollenweider Sr., a man who's as fun to talk to as it is saying his name and could share a story or twelve. Armed with a pretty high-tech looking camera and a small hand towel, Vollenwieder spent most of his time taking pictures of players. He says his strategy is to get good enough pictures to make duplicates, one to give to the player and one to have the player sign and keep. He's also a fan of catching foul balls and having the player who hit the ball sign it.

"I'm up to my ears in baseballs," he said.

Vollenweider is a baseball fan in the purest form. He's been following New Orleans baseball since the team was the Pelicans ("He's old," Stuart quipped) and he had to to take two (or was it three?) buses to games. Last year he was the Co-Chairperson of the Bullpen Club, the Zephyrs' fan club. No word on where the rest of the fan club was yesterday.

Stu, it seems, is following in Vollenweider's memorabilia-collecting shoes, saying he comes to all the games to get as many autographs as possible. Among his prized possessions are balls autographed by Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Tommy Lasorda. Stu might be a little hampered this year, though, as he will be serving as a bat boy for many games this season.

"I don't know for which team yet, though," he said.

"It better be for the Zephyrs," Jackie warned.

Just then, Stu caught a ball from a Zephyrs coach walking out of the dugout.

"Look at that," Jeanne said. "He got a ball already."

"Yea but it's waterlogged," Stu said.

"Who cares?" Jackie asked.

My thoughts exactly.