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Seek and Ye Shall Find

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Know where to look and you’ll find some great sporting events around town

In the summertime, when the weather is right and the sky is so clear and blue, New Orleanians are driven outdoors despite our town’s oppressive heat. Oftentimes we are seeking sports as a way to enjoy the climate. But what sports are there to see at this time of year? The NBA Playoffs and the Hornets are done; the round ball champions decided. March Madness long since dissipated with spring, and football seems as though it will not start for an eternity (the Saints, LSU and Tulane coaches have hardly filled in the numbers for the names on their rosters). But there are things to do and to look forward to in Crescent City sports, even in the midst of summer doldrums.

Nearly every week of summer, the Zephyrs offer the levee, the bleachers, the Party Shack, the pool and the Home Run Porch—all features of Zephyr Field. Only in baseball can you have such descriptive features and nomenclature as fungos, Texas Leaguers, bloopers, spitters, the Mendoza Line, sac-flies and all the other specialized words and extemporaneous happenings that go along with it. Tickets are a reasonable $6, and family packages of four tickets, with four programs, four hot dogs and four sodas, are available for $44. The Z’s are in second place, in a tight pennant race, and no matter what, there are always Boudreaux Nutria and Clotile Picou to keep things interesting while enjoying the relatively cooler summer nights.

Meanwhile, across town, the New Orleans Shell Shockers, of the Premier Development League, are the city’s resident importers of the world’s most popular sport: soccer, aka fútbol. Driven by Katrina from their home pitch in City Park, Pan Am Stadium, the Shell Shockers are returning to the newly remodeled version this summer. Though most recently just 4-3-3, they are undefeated at home and provide New Orleanians with a chance to see the country’s fastest-growing sport while surrounded by some of the area’s most varied and energetic fans.

Also in City Park, the return of golf is highly anticipated. It has been reported that the North Course will reopen in early July, allowing metropolitan duffers to resume their pursuits at one of the nation’s finest municipal courses. Chances are good that it will be better than ever thanks to expected management by Billy Casper Golf.

Furthermore, the Bayou District Foundation, via a plan developed and spearheaded by the Fore!Kids Foundation, will eventually open two championship courses at the East and West courses, which give local golfers something else to look forward to. Finally, the Saints will once again be opening training camp to the public, just a few hours away at Millsaps College, in Jackson, Mississippi. A visit to the camp allows fans to get a jump on football and an early dose of what can be expected this fall (the Saints’ first preseason game is August 7, against the Arizona Cardinals). There will be wide-receiver battles (a struggle for the number two and three receiver spots will likely ensue between David Patten, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Adrian Arrington), competition at quarterback (Mark Brunell will be trying to wrest the backup quarterback spot from Jamie Miller and Tyler Palko), jousting at defensive end (Bobby McCray may start pushing Charles Grant toward tackle) and a race for starting cornerback (draftee Tracy Porter will be trying to make his presence felt among veterans Jason Craft, Randall Gay, Aaron Glenn and Usama Young). And local fans can watch it all take place in person.

Attendees will also witness the drama of who will start at halfback, as Deuce McAllister will be trying to overcome his second major injury; Reggie Bush will be seeking to redeem the team’s investment in him; Pierre Thomas will be fighting to prove himself; and speedy Chris Barclay will be working to overcome the odds and earn some playing time. There will be plenty to discuss, specifically the direction of the Saints’ front office, just what happened to player personnel director and one-time team co-architect Rick Mueller and what his leaving says about the state of current management. And then there’s also the issue of just what the NFL is doing to the team this year in terms of its schedule, including a so-called “home” game in far, far away London: the Saints will be playing seven of their final 10 home games on the road, which is as daunting a schedule as any team has had in years. After the October 12 game versus the Oakland Raiders, the Saints will not return for another home game until November 24, against the Green Bay Packers, a full six weeks later, which is astounding. It will present as great a logistical and mental coaching challenge as any faced by Sean Peyton as head of the team to date.

In the midst of all these opportunities, it may be that the average sports fan could prefer the indoor air-conditioned cool, perhaps where the various events and predilections of local teams can be watched and discussed in absolute comfort, whether it be at the baseball haven Ye Olde College Inn, the official soccer headquarters Finn McCool’s or their own homes, where the glowing rays of ESPN provide all the Cubs and Astros and training camp highlights that any sports fan could desire. What is certain is that if the sports scene in New Orleans seems a little dormant in the coming weeks, perhaps you just aren’t looking in the right places.