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Sports Solstice

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Football may be over, but there’s no shortage of basketball, soccer or baseball to watch (and play)With the magnificence of the Saints’ epic Super Bowl win now behind us, the question arises: Is this truly the season of our sports discontent, left in that impenetrable gray twilight in which no other sport, not major league, minor league, amateur or recreational, can possibly compare? Considering what has come before, aside from dreams of gridiron triumphs now past, we are left with the glorious days of spring and summer ahead, and all the possibilities they present.

The Buzz on the Hornets

The Hornets are and will continue to be in full swing through mid-April. It has been a stark turnaround for the team, from their ascendance during their 2007–08 playoff run (coming within one win of the conference finals) and franchise best (56-26) record to a devastating first-round exit in 2008–09 and the firing of Byron Scott this season. De facto co-coaches Scott Bowen and Tim Floyd have developed a leaner, more exciting team even if they are not winning as much as Scott’s last two squads.

Aside from the known veteran quantities of the sterling Chris Paul (still, arguably pound for pound and stat for stat the best point guard in the NBA), David West (still the most underrated, and maybe underutilized, player in the league), Peja Stojakovic, Julian Wright and Emeka Okefor, a great deal of quickness and enthusiasm has been added to game night with rookies Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton and newcomers Darius Songalia and Aaron Gray. The franchise shed a great deal of dead weight by dealing away unproductive players in offseason maneuvers, which will help build for the future. It’s an odd conundrum, but somehow the Hornets, despite losing more often, have become a quicker, more fun team to watch. With the Saints finally off the schneid in a huge way, it is now the transplanted team in teal, purple and gold that is facing a long 22-year history of championship futility. As the Hornets are seven and a half games out of playoff contention with only 14 games to go, the chances for a post-season run seem extremely slight, but fans can still see a glimpse of the future and some excellent, energized pro basketball before the team’s finale in the arena on April 11.

The Jesters Aren’t Clowning Around

The Jesters soccer club emerges from a successful maiden voyage (5-0-11 record and a playoff appearance) in the USL’s Premier Development League with a great deal of hope and momentum toward gaining a foothold in the local sports landscape. Games at Pan American Stadium do not commence until May 11, but the team will be hosting a wide variety of camps, events and tryouts in advance. Coach and General Manager Kenny Farrell is one of the most prominent and interesting figures in local sports, and the Jesters are an extremely affordable and accessible way for anyone looking to get in on the ground floor of a growing major league sport before it takes off. Season tickets for adults can be had at an incredibly low $50, while the season cost for children is a mere $25 (single game tickets are $10 and $5, respectively).

Take ’Em Out to a Ball Game

Zephyrs baseball returns on April 8 and offers pleasant outdoor nights, Triple-A-quality play featuring soon-to-be major leaguers attached to the MLB’s Florida Marlins, and excellent food and drinks. Season tickets start at $425 for a full summer slate of 72 home games, and single game tickets start at $8. General manager Mike Schline and manager Edwin Rodriguez will be the featured speakers at an Opening Week Meet and Greet Party at Zephyr Field on April 6. At $20 (proceeds go to the very worthy Cystic Fibrosis Foundation), the event will feature a sneak peak at this coming season, a sense of the opening day roster and the team’s prospects, as well as drinks and a catered dinner. Again, besides offering the enjoyment of cool summer nights with friends and family, Zephyr Field is always a terrific and easy way to immerse oneself in pro baseball and learn everything about it from the delivery of the pitch over home plate to its ultimate destination at the warning track.

LSU Tigers and Tulane Green Wave baseball are also easy, affordable options for baseball, and once again both teams are either highly ranked (under Coach Paul Manieri, LSU won the 2009 national championship and is currently No. 3 nationally) or striving to return to post-season success (under Rick Jones, Tulane has reached the NCAA regionals every year but two since 1998). Locally, Turchin Stadium at Tulane’s campus is tough to beat for playing hooky while watching baseball in an intimate setting, with a cold beer on a beautiful spring afternoon.

No Shortage of Things to Do

Indeed, there are so many other options that there is no reason to sit at home when the weather turns sunny: The Fair Grounds features some of the best horse racing in America, in one of its oldest venues; the Saints’ draft will take place April 22 to 24 and the team should be having its annual draft festivities at its headquarters on Airline Drive; the Zurich Golf Classic will take place April 19 to 25 at the TPC Louisiana golf course on the West Bank, and for those of you who consider chasing a ball with a canine “sport,” depending on who’s actually doing the running, City Park is opening its City Bark dog park near Popp Fountain. And one last word: Keep in mind that each man or woman can start his or her own sports league. Call some friends, create a Web site and form a darts, petanque (aka boccie), billiards or basketball league of your own. Remember, it’s a big city and there are a lot of days before the next kickoff and the Saints’ next run at another Lombardi Trophy, so get out there and be a good sport.