New Orleans Zephyrs
The New Orleans Zephyrs of New Orleans, Louisiana, were a distinct identity that existed for 24 seasons of baseball in two minor leagues–both of them at the Triple-A level. They came into being when the Denver Zephyrs of the now-defunct American Association were displaced by the National League’s Colorado Rockies following the 1992 season, and moved to New Orleans.
Despite playing in a new location, the team retained the Zephyrs moniker, which was an allusion to a steel passenger train that once traveled regular routes from Denver to Chicago. Coincidentally, the iconic Zephyr roller coaster was a focal point of the Ponchatrain Beach Amusement Park in New Orleans, which closed in 1983. Perhaps this coincidence was one of the reasons that the Zephyrs name persisted for so long.
Despite moving well over 1,000 miles southeast, the transition from Denver to New Orleans seems remarkably seamless all these years later. In addition to keeping the name, they retained the same uniforms and logos, with the only alteration being the changed place name. The team colors were forest green and navy blue, and they used two caps: one with a green crown and navy logo/bill, and the other with the colors reversed. The primary logo featured a baseball with its seams in the shape of the letter Z. Not only did they use the same branding as the Denver team, they kept their affiliation with the Milwaukee Brewers–a partnership that lasted through the 1996 season and featured such players as Jeff Cirillo, Mike Matheny, and Jose Valentin.
In 1997, the Zephyrs signed on with their Gulf of Mexico neighbor, the Houston Astros. This affiliation would last through the 2004 season, and there were some notable changes the Zephyrs went through in this time. After the 1997 season, the American Association folded, and the Zephyrs were absorbed by the Pacific Coast League–becoming one of the least Pacific Coast teams in the league’s storied history. [MLG Note: I have to wonder what the reaction to this change was by Zephyrs ownership, who would now have to foot the bill for plane travel to places like Tacoma, Fresno, and Edmonton.] Another more whimsical change around this time was the addition of Boudreaux, a nutria mascot complete with zoologically-correct orange teeth. Boudreaux would eventually get a girlfriend named Clotile, which as best I can tell is a Louisianan word for a fun-loving party girl.
On the diamond, this era saw talent that would go on to play a big part in Houston’s 2005 NL pennant campaign, including Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Carlos Guillen also passed through New Orleans en route to being traded to Seattle. You would think that given this success, as well as the geographic proximity, would make the Astros a perfect match for the Zephyrs. But life is change, especially in the minors.
In 2005, the Zephyrs linked up with the nascent Washington Nationals and the two were together for two years. This was a few years before the big Nats prospects (Strasburg, Harper, etc.) came through, and there’s not much to say about these seasons on the baseball end.
Things weren’t quite so boring on the visual end, though. Around this time, the team switched their cap logo to a cartoon version of Boudreaux chomping through the letter Z. The cartoon nutria in the logo is wearing a green cap with a plain letter Z. This is a good thing, because if he had been wearing the same cap that he is a part of, it would’ve created a house-of-mirrors situation that your average nutria would struggle to cope with.
Another two-year affiliation stint came from ’07 to ’09, when an agreement with the Mets was inked. Carlos Gomez came through, as did future perfect-gamer Philip Humber. Hilariously, Jose Valentin once again suited up for the Zephs for 10 games in ’08, albeit at a much different point in his career.
The (then) Florida Marlins and Zephyrs worked out a PDC before the 2009 season, and this would be the last chapter in the story of the Zephyrs identity. In 2010, the team underwent a major redesign of their uniforms and logos. Gone was green and in was silver. The letter Z cap logo was thickened and vertically compressed. Several alternate emblems were created, including a fleur de lis with the center staff forming a baseball bat shape. One of these emblems featured the new fleur de lis with the new Z threaded through the bat. The name of the logo? Why, the Fleur de Z, of course.
The new uniforms made liberal use of New Orleans’s NOLA nickname, and in 2015, there were headlines when Marlins prospect Austin Nola was promoted to Triple-A, and found that his name was on the front of his jersey for a change. These new uniforms and logos formed the visual aesthetic that would mark the final years of the Zephyrs.
The Zephyrs identity ceased to be following the 2016 season, when the team became the New Orleans Baby Cakes. Sure, there are plenty of threads of continuity between the Zephyrs and Baby Cakes. Boudreaux is still the mascot and the Marlins affiliation continued. But it’s safe to say that as a distinct identity, the Zephyrs were blown away into the Gulf of Mexico.