“Lagniappe,” which is one of my mother’s favorite words, describes our New Orleans experience at the Zephyrs’ game. A word of Creole origin, it means a little extra, something unanticipated and good, often “free.” It was also the word used by Whittier alumna Jennifer Buddemeyer to describe the evening.
For the second game in a row, I was praying like My Fair Lady’s Henry Higgins, “Just get me to the park on time….” Minutes before leaving Abita Springs to cross Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans for the Zephyrs’ game, we learned that the Causeway was closed because of a big-rig fire that had shut down the lanes in both directions. That meant that we would need to follow the longer route through Slidell, taking I-10 across the water and through much of New Orleans as the five-o’clock traffic swarmed. Off we went in Toad and made our way fairly easily against the primary flow of traffic before exiting the freeway and continuing the last five miles on surface streets. No problems developed, and we managed to get into the park early.
As I moved toward my check-in point, I noticed Jennifer Buddemeyer walking toward me. She had been a residence hall advisor when Bonnie and I had lived on Whittier’s campus as faculty masters. I wouldn’t have recognized her by sight if she had not been wearing her purple and gold T-shirt featuring the Whittier slogan, “Fear the Poet.” A marvelous singer herself, she joined me in singing the anthem from her place adjacent to Bonnie.
|Jennifer and Bonnie await the start of the Zephyrs' game.|
Walking past the Zephyrs dugout, I heard hitting coach Damon Minor offer a simple response to my rendition. “Thanks.” His response was echoed moments later by one of the TV camera operators, who became the first commenter to address me by name: “Good job, Joe. Thanks.”
In our seats behind home plate, I had a grand time catching up with Jennifer during the game, learning about her progress on her literature dissertation at Tulane. Since she had attended quite a few games at Zephyr Field during pre-Katrina years, she was able to provide background on the ballpark and the city’s support of the team. One of the most fascinating bits that she shared was that the hillocks beyond the outfield fence serve a purpose other than providing a picnicking area for fans. They also function as a levee.
|Levees beyond the centerfield fence|
Talking with her was a great distraction from the unusually calm Zephyrs, who collected only three singles until the ninth. By contrast, the Salt Lake Bees generated an offensive hive, scoring easily and often, putting up six runs in the first inning. About the only thing that the Zephyrs fans could cheer for until the final inning was the spectacular scoop of an errant throw and somersaulting tag by first baseman Mike Cervenak. Immediately, over the public address system came the unmistakable phrase and voice of Harry Caray, “Holy cow!” Indeed!
|Even the lure of a muffalleto couldn't keep us from MiLa's.|
As we left the ballpark while the Zephyrs were being blanked, a foul ball plummeted past our heads, bounced a few feet from us, and rolled into the bushes nearby. I picked it up and tossed it to a young boy who was leaving the game with his father. His bug-eyed delight more than compensated for giving up the first ball that I had gotten on the tour. The ball was lagniappe to our early departure for dinner at MiLa’s, an incredible restaurant where we had dined two years ago and where on this brief return to New Orleans we had decided to eat our single meal. (Check out Bonnie's blog on "Mmm, Mmm, Louisiana" to savor our dinner there.)
Lagniappe also ended up being the theme for the night, for Jennifer. Following the game, she emailed me with a note that her seat number appeared on the scoreboard, indicating that its holder had been selected to win a free Mobil 1 Oil Change! Indeed her seat was lucky that night. During the seventh inning stretch when the Zephyrs’ staff members tossed promotional baseball caps into the stands, one landed in her lap. And following the game there were fireworks. “You gotta love minor league ball,” she wrote.
She also let me know that although the Zephyrs lost 7-1, their lone run was, in her description, “poetry.” (You gotta love English majors who are alumni of the Poets—Whittier’s mascot!) With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Vinny Rottino lined a triple into the right field corner. The next hitter roped a single to right, scoring Rottino. His hit was followed by another and a walk to load the bases before a grounder ended the game on a force play. Jennifer concluded her note with the observation that “the Zephyrs went down playing all the way to the end—and that's something, ain't it?!? I wished you'd been there to see it! That kind of baseball, which doesn't happen at every game, was lagniappe, too.”