NEW ORLEANS – You can run. You can walk.
You can sit. You can stand.
Maybe all four if you time it right.
One thing’s for sure — Saturday is going to be one busy sports day in New Orleans.
In chronological order:
8 a.m. — The 35th Crescent City Classic featuring a new starting point — Poydras Street near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and a new title sponsor — the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
1 p.m. — The Zephyrs against their parent team, the Miami Marlins, in the first major league exhibition game held here since 1999.
5 p.m. — The 100th running of the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, with, for the first time, an infield festival which will add room for 5,000 more fans.
6 p.m. — Finally, practically back where it began, the VooDoo, off to a 1-0 start, vs. the Iowa Barnstormers in the New Orleans Arena.
And that’s not to mention the celebrating continuing from Friday night after the Hornets snap the Heat’s winning streak.
Hey, after Monday night’s rout of the Nuggets, who’s to say it can’t happen?
But back to Saturday:
“It’s definitely a big day,” Fair Grounds president Tim Bryant said. “I’ve been here for three years, and it’s certainly the most important one we’ve had.”
The Louisiana Derby, with its $1 million purse, already was a big event. And with the new points system determining the Kentucky Derby qualifiers, it’s now a make-or-break race for several hopefuls, even long-shots like Hero of Order, last year’s winner at 109-1 odds.
So to help with what was overcrowding in the traditional viewing areas, plus attract fans who might not ordinarily visit the racetrack, Fair Grounds officials came up with the infield festival, a staple of Derby Day at Churchill Downs, the local track’s parent company.
There will 17 food trucks, music by Cowboy Mouth and Flow Tribe, and plenty of mutual windows.
The infield will hold 5,000 people, and officials are expecting the general admission tickets to be gone by Friday.
So many people are expected that the Fair Grounds is providing shuttle-service parking at the old Kennedy High School, which is convenient enough for Crescent City Classic participants who want to keep the party going to hitch a ride to the race track.
If they’re up to it.
Lively festivities have long been a staple of the Crescent City Classic, before during and especially after the race.
But otherwise, classic officials acknowledged, things had grown a bit stale with the 10K, which used to attract fields in excess of 35,000 but has been less than half of that in recent years.
First-year race director Eric Stuart said Tuesday that almost 18, 000, about half of them walkers, have preregistered for Saturday’s race with another 3,500 expected by Friday’s deadline.
And when repairs to Esplanade, which makes up much of the race route, are completed, Stuart said the CCC will be the fastest course in the country, which should help rebuild the numbers even more.
Meanwhile, out at the ballpark, the Zephyrs, thanks to a strong corporate push, have sold about 7,300 tickets for Saturday’s game with a final turnout of about 10,000 possible.
That’s not bad considering that the 2013 Marlins, with the lowest payroll in the majors, aren’t that much better than their AAA affiliate.
Getting big clubs to even consider playing exhibitions anywhere but their spring training homes or their own stadiums on the weekend before the season starts requires favorable logistics and financial considerations on the part of the minor league team, which has the burden of game expenses.
Zephyrs’ general manager Mike Schline said he isn’t sure this will become an annual affair, but he promises it won’t be another 14 years between visits.
The VooDoo game is the only one that’s not dependent on the weather.
But Saturday’s early forecast is partly cloudy with a high of 74.
Yep, it’s going to be one busy — and nice — sports day.
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