Walks with Graff - Lasalle Park

Walks with Graff: LaSalle Park

Shrine on Airline the source of many great memories
by Todd Graffagnini

Todd Graffagnini, the radio play-by-play man for the New Orleans Pelicans, is a walker. You can find Graff pounding the pavement somewhere around this great city almost every day. During this pause in games we've asked the New Orleans native to let fans tag along and learn about the routes he takes and some of the city's sports history.

Hello again, fellow walkers. Time for another edition of Walks with Graff. Hope you are all continuing to stay safe as we inch closer to being able to get out of the house more and more. As we head into mid-May, it really has been a stretch of some of the best weather we've had around here in a while, and judging from the feedback from this column and the people I see out and about walking and jogging a lot of you are certainly taking advantage of it. This walk was certainly no exception as I headed out to Metairie and the BIG loop at LaSalle Park. It's a walk/jog that draws people from the area, and I know for a fact that many a Saints/Pelican employee has gotten their exercise in over lunch breaks around that loop. Located just off Airline Drive and Dickory, it's easy to get to as well.

This walk is pretty straightforward, unlike the other ones that have been featured here over the last six weeks. It's three laps (or however many you choose) around the park. One lap around the BIG loop (more on that later) is 1.75 miles, but if you want to keep it just to the park itself it's about a mile. Parking is very ample wherever you want to begin your lap. I like to park in the spaces nearest the train tracks in the southeast corner of the park itself. True to my usual form, I head counter-clockwise around, but again, that is up to you.

Heading west toward Dickory, the first part of the excursion takes you through the Oswald Dubea Arboreum and Nature Center. There are actually two trails that cut through the middle of the park if you want to veer off the main track. In this instance, we'll stay on the wide path. The many trees provide ample shade even though the day is pretty mild, but that shade will come in handy when the weather really heats up. As the curve approaches toward Dickory Avenue, the gorgeous baseball quadriplex will be on your right. The outfields were being watered this particular day but obviously nobody was or has been playing baseball out here for two months.

After that initial right turn around the baseball complex the direction will be east (today it was into a stiff breeze) and Airline Drive will be on the left and parallel to the loop. As the cars race by in both directions, the mind wanders as to how much this area has changed over the years. As you approach the big crossover with the Jefferson Performing Arts Center on your immediate right and The Shrine on Airline now in full view up ahead to the right.

The Shrine on Airline (formerly Zephyr Field) was completed in 1997 at a cost of $26 million. It has hosted numerous sporting events and was even a FEMA rescue facility post-Katrina, but baseball was why it was originally built and where the greatest moments in that building have originated from. The permanent home of the New Orleans Zephyrs (after moving from UNO's Maestri Field), then most recently the New Orleans Baby Cakes, it now is the home field of the New Orleans Gold major league rugby team. The loop will take you beyond the left field wall and "levee" and you can look into the stadium.

I'll get to my own personal Shrine on Airline story later on in the column but I wanted to get the thoughts of Tim Grubbs, who has been the radio play-by-play voice of the Zephyrs/Baby Cakes since 2002. Tim made the move to Wichita, Kan., when the team left after last season, but he's witnessed as many games in that ballpark as anyone. Some big names have also either called that ballpark home, or have made a visit with their particular teams. He recalls some of those players.

"It's crazy, but the list of opponents that have come through far outweighs the Zephyrs over the years as far as the best players I have seen. Guys like Yadier Molina, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ryan Braun, Mark Prior, Alex Gordon, George Springer, Prince Fielder, Johan Santana, and Buster Posey just to name a few. In fact, Buster Posey and Kris Bryant both played their last minor league games at Zephyr Field. They both got called up after a game there, I always thought that was kind of neat, especially how in both of their careers they have gone on to do very well."

I also asked Tim what his most fond memory was of the ballpark. The answer is something locals might not have remembered.

"The best memory for me, the top of the list, is April 2006. It was the first game after Katrina. The Saints obviously had not played there (New Orleans) yet. The Hornets were still in Oklahoma City. That was the first professional sporting event played in the city. Back in September 2005 I was thinking we'd be a nomad team playing 144 games in 2006. It was pretty cool that Ron Maestri and those guys got the ballpark ready...and when we threw that first pitch out, there were 9,000 or so people there. We couldn't have completely sold it out because there was still scaffolding in the upper deck. That without a doubt is my favorite memory, because it was such a great day after such an odd offseason."

Coming up on another right turn now through another shady grove of trees, another familiar sight comes into the picture. Tom Benson Way, and the Oschner Sports Performance Center, the home of your New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans. Many thousands have come into the practice fields the last couple of summers to watch Saints training camp, a very popular location for the loyal and passionate fans of the team. We only hope that day comes again as soon as it is safe enough to do so.

One more turn to the right and we are headed back west to our starting point. Now the ballpark is on the right and the vastness of the parking spaces in full view. It was in these spaces where the greatest three days of college baseball in Louisiana took place from June 1-3, 2001. The Super Regional between Tulane and LSU was an event that transcended college baseball. It was a statewide showcase that, at the time, was the most watched sporting event in the state's history, and that parking lot was ground zero for three and a half days. Over 11,000 were inside the ballpark for each of the three games, but thousands more were outside in the parking lots watching on television or listening on the radio. That event was the crowning moment for the ballpark, never to be equaled, and it still makes me proud to this day to know I was part of it all.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane while getting in some good exercise. As always, stay safe, take care of each other, and we'll see you soon on the pavement.

Walks with Graff - TPC Louisiana
Todd Graffagnini, the radio play-by-play man for the New...
May 06, 2020
Walks with Graff - Algiers Point
Todd Graffagnini, the radio play-by-play announcer for the...
April 22, 2020
Walks with Graff - New Orleans City Park, Mid City
Todd Graffagnini, the radio play-by-play announcer for the...
April 15, 2020

Commissioner Adam Silver joins Inside

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver joins Inside to speak on breaking systemic racism, how the NBA can be a catalyst for change and the logistics of the play-in tournament as the NBA is set to resume July 31

All Videos

Scroll Video up Scroll Video down Scroll Video left Scroll Video right

Commissioner Adam Silver joins Inside

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver joins Inside to speak on breaking systemic racism, how the NBA can be a catalyst for change and the logistics of the play-in tournament as the NBA is set to resume July 31
Jun 5, 2020  |  00:17

HomeTeamTV: Pelicans Strength & Conditioning Coach on Fitness Friday, 6/5/20

Head strength and conditioning coach for the Pelicans Jason Sumerlin shares his workout for Fitness Friday on #HomeTeamTV.
Jun 5, 2020  |  00:46

HomeTeamTV: Mike Katz talks with Rouses CEO Donny Rouse for Takeout Thursday, 6/4/20

Mike Katz from Benson Capital Partners catches up with Rouses CEO Donny Rouse for Takeout Thursday on #HomeTeamTV.
Jun 4, 2020  |  07:08

NBA Together: Ernie Johnson hosts roundtable with Swin Cash, David Griffin, and Alvin Gentry

NBA Together Ernie Johnson is joined by Pelicans front office members Swin Cash, David Griffin and Alvin Gentry along with Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce to discuss racism and police brutality.
Jun 2, 2020  |  47:15

HomeTeamTV: Brain power snack tips on Mental Health Monday, 6/1/20

New Orleans Pelicans Dietitian Ariel St. Julien shares some healthy snack tips to increase your brain power for Mental Health Monday on #HomeTeamTV.
Jun 1, 2020  |  01:28

David West remembers his New Orleans basketball career

Former New Orleans Hornets forward David West talks with Daniel Sallerson about his time in New Orleans.
Jun 1, 2020  |  14:35

HomeTeamTV: Ball handling drills for Fitness Friday, 5/29/20

Pelicans player development coach A.J. Diggs shares some drills to do to improve your ball handling for Fitness Friday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 29, 2020  |  01:52

Brandon Ingram helps fund pop-up grocery in New Orleans with Goodr

Through donations from Brandon Ingram, Goodr provided two pop-up grocery sites in underserved New Orleans communities.
May 28, 2020  |  02:00

HomeTeamTV: Smoothie King options on Takeout Thursday, 5/28/20

Smoothie King encourages people to visit one of their many locations on Takeout Thursday as they offer online ordering, takeout, and drive through options.
May 28, 2020  |  00:21

HomeTeamTV: The Pelicans guess what's in the box on Wild Card Wednesday, 5/27/20

New Orleans Pelicans players and head coach try to guess what's in the box using only their hands for Wild Card Wednesday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 27, 2020  |  01:28

Home Team TV: Mental Health Monday with Jessica Huneycutt

Watch Mental Health Monday with Jessica Huneycutt.
May 25, 2020  |  01:54

Pelicans players remember and honor service members on Memorial Day 2020

In honor of the sacrifices made by our service men and women, our Pelicans players share their gratitude on Memorial Day.
May 25, 2020  |  00:56

Best of Zion Williamson alley-oop finishes this season

See some of Zion's best work from the 2019-20 season
May 23, 2020  |  00:02

HomeTeamTV: PDT Alyssa Fitness Friday workout routine, 5/22/20

Alyssa from the Pelicans Dance Team shares her workout routine for Fitness Friday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 22, 2020  |  03:13

HomeTeamTV: Raising Cane's CEO Todd Graves talks pandemic response, 5/21/20

CEO of Raising Cane's Todd Graves sits down with Mike Katz to talk about the restaurant's response to the covid-19 pandemic on #HomeTeamTV.
May 21, 2020  |  05:38

HomeTeamTV: Pierre completes 2020 census on Wild Card Wednesday, 5/20/20

Pelicans mascot Pierre completes his census form for Wild Card Wednesday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 20, 2020  |  00:30

HomeTeamTV: PDT Samantha's salsa routine on Turnnt Up Tuesday, 5/19/20

Pelicans dance team member Samantha teaches a salsa routine for Turnt Up Tuesday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 19, 2020  |  05:06

Pelicans David Griffin discusses re-opening the team's practice facility amid COVID-19 restrictions

New Orleans Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin speaks with the media on the opening of the team's practice facility and the social distancing rules in place for players.
May 18, 2020  |  28:04

HomeTeamTV: Pierre's sleep tips on Mental Health Monday, 5/18/20

Pelicans mascot Pierre shares some tips for better sleep during stressful times for Mental Health Monday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 18, 2020  |  00:46

HomeTeamTV: Dribbling drills with Pelicans athletic trainer Stan Williams on Fitness Friday, 5/15/20

New Orleans Pelicans athletic trainer Stan Williams harnesses the force while doing dribbling drills for Fitness Friday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 15, 2020  |  01:57

HomeTeamTV: Nicolò Melli translates quarantine conversation starters into Italian on Translation Thursday, 5/14/20

Pelicans forward Nicolò Melli translates some quarantine conversation starters into Italian for Translation Thursday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 14, 2020  |  01:05

NBA legend Bob McAdoo remembers Pete Maravich's 68-point game

Pelicans play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers talks to NBA legend Bob McAdoo as they remember Pete Maravich's amazing performance in his 68-point game.
May 13, 2020  |  08:58

Pete Maravich's teammate Jim McElroy remembers Pete's 68-point game

Pelicans play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers talks to former New Orleans Jazz guard and Pete Maravich teammate Jim McElroy as they remember Pete Maravich's 68-point game.
May 13, 2020  |  09:27

New Orleans Jazz official scorer Bob Remy remembers Pete Maravich's 68-point game

Pelicans play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers talks to former New Orleans Jazz official scorer Bob Remy about how he was able to keep up with Maravich's scoring.
May 13, 2020  |  05:49

HomeTeamTV: Remembering Pete Maravich's 68 point game on Wild Card Wednesday, 5/13/20

FOX Sports New Orleans will re-broadcast Pistol Pete Maravich's 68 point game on tonight (Wednesday, May 13th at 7:00pm CT) after a special preview show with Joel Meyers at 6:30pm.
May 13, 2020  |  01:21

HomeTeamTV: Pass the Ball Challenge on Turnt Up Tuesday, 5/12/20

The New Orleans Pelicans staff take on the Pass the Ball Challenge for Turnt Up Tuesday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 12, 2020  |  00:48

Author and Tulane professor Walter Isaacson on solving the COVID-19 pandemic

Author and Tulane professor Walter Isaacson talks about what it's going to take to solve the COVID-19 pandemic.
May 11, 2020  |  07:39

Happy Mother's Day from your Pelicans

Before you knew us, Mom was there. Our Pelicans wish all the moms out there a Happy Mother's Day!
May 10, 2020  |  01:44

Blue Angels fly over New Orleans, Smoothie King Center in show of support for front-line workers

On May 6, 2020 the Blue Angels, the Navy's elite flying squadron, flew over the Smoothie King Center and the city as a salute and thank you to New Orleans' front line workers battling the coronavirus.
May 8, 2020  |  00:43

HomeTeamTV: Fitness Friday with Kelsey from the Pelicans Dance Team, 5/8/20

Pelicans Dance Team member Kelsey shares her workout routine for Fitness Friday on #HomeTeamTV.
May 8, 2020  |  03:14

Related Content

NEXT UP:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter