Bill Curl leaned over the railing inside the Louisiana Superdome and pointed just to the right of the "Nebraska" spray-painted inside one end zone, a lasting remnant from the Sugar Bowl in January.

"Right there," said Curl, vice president of marketing for Facility Management of Louisiana, the corporation that runs the Superdome, "is where home plate will be. The field measurements will be something like 315 feet down the lines, 420 feet to dead center. And we have more than 50,000 seats with an unobstructed view."

These numbers sound as sweet as Al Hirt's trumpet to Curl and others interested in bringing a major league baseball expansion franchise to New Orleans. Baseball and New Orleans, they figure, are the perfect match, like red beans and rice.

Stating the New Orleans baseball party line, Charles Pisano, chairman of Mayor Ernest Morial's Baseball Commission, says, "It's incredible to me that major league baseball does not have a team between Atlanta and Houston."

However, one number makes New Orleans' rejuvenated push for baseball sound entirely off-key: 34.

That's where New Orleans rates among the nation's top television markets, according to the most recent Arbitron survey -- 34th. It's not a number you want to brag to Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth about. New Orleans rates well below even the smallest TV market among baseball's 26 teams (Milwaukee, at 29th) and far below several other cities vying for expansion teams.

It is one of the primary reasons New Orleans, while viewed as a top 10 contender to acquire a baseball franchise if expansion arrives, is rarely mentioned in the top two. Or top three. Or even top five, sometimes.

Members of the New Orleans baseball brigade don't dispute the fact that TV-market size is a large demerit point. "It's a concern, but there's nothing we can do about it," Curl says.

Instead, these folk talk of the success of their city's baseball past, the strength of its baseball present (the University of New Orleans, Tulane and Louisiana State all have had nationally ranked teams recently) and of making their prospective major league team into a regional team of the South, buoyed by cable possibilities.

"I don't have any reservations that New Orleans could support a major league baseball franchise. There seems to be concern about the TV market and the size of the population," says Bob Roesler, sports editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "But I think there's a hidden group of fans here: tourists. Starting every January here, for example, I start getting calls from people here wondering, 'When will the Dodgers be playing in Houston?' so they can arrange their trips. Properly promoted, we could get the same thing here."

"Check the regional market here," Curl says. "For example, Mobile (Ala.) is a great baseball town. We have to find out how many would come in cars and drive three hours here. We could draw from as far west as Lafayette (La.), a 2 1/2-hour drive. And why not pull from Shreveport (La.), too? What about pulling from Monroe (La.)? Can we pull from Memphis? The Saints' TV market includes Memphis, so why not? And what about Florida? They might get a team, but if they don't, Pensacola is a given (market) for us."

Perhaps the best view of the New Orleans situation is offered by Cliff Wallace, general manager of the Superdome, who says without pause, "If baseball expands by two teams, our chances are slim. If they expand by four teams, we've got a good shot. If they expand by six teams, I'd be very disappointed if we didn't get it."

Although New Orleans rates as a grizzled veteran among cities trying to acquire a franchise -- its citizens have been at it, off and on, since the late 1960s -- one problem has kept its baseball drive in neutral.

Until last week, the city had been more preoccupied with keeping the National Football League Saints in town than with adding a baseball club. Finally, New Orleans auto dealer Tom Benson completed a deal to purchase the Saints from John Mecom after receiving several concessions from lawmakers, including a repeal of a 14 percent tax on Superdome sports events.

"A lot of other cities have promoted baseball a lot better than we have," said Pisano, who has been chairman of the mayor's committee for four years. "The problem is that the mayor and the legislature have been more concerned with the Saints right now. We haven't had a baseball meeting for three or four months."

In fact, Pisano notes, New Orleans did not even have a representative at the most recent baseball league meeting "for the first time in three or four years."

New Orleans does have many things to entice major league baseball. For one, the Superdome, with what Wallace calls "the biggest public floor space under a roof anywhere." It seats 71,000 for football, more than 50,000 for baseball, includes 170,000 square feet for tenant space and another 100,000 square feet for convention and meeting space on the second floor. No wonder when a radio station held a "Name the Dome" contest in 1974, the winning name was Big Mother Arena.

For another thing, Louisiana possesses a fascinating baseball history. It can be traced to the Evangeline League of the 1930s, which included teams in towns like Opelousas and New Iberia and Rayne and had stars with names like Tarzan Stephenson, the all-star outfielder for Lafayette.

In the 1950s, you could find the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association. That team drew well until air conditioning came into vogue, Curl says, and many fans retreated to the cool of their homes to escape the intolerable summer heat.

And in 1977, in the Dome, there were the New Orleans Pelicans of the Class AAA American Association. The team had Benny Ayala, Doug Capilla and Manny Castillo. It drew only 3,000 fans per game in its one last-place season, however, and moved to a new city and finally settled as the Louisville Redbirds.

In the past, when the baseball pooh-bahs have pointed to New Orleans' baseball flaws, the Superdome has reacted. There was the bothersome seam in the AstroTurf that ran between the pitcher's mound and first base and caused bad bounces for the Pelicans of 1977. The Superdome has replaced the old turf with the highest-quality AstroTurf 8 by Monsanto.

In 1978, a sophisticated lighting system incorporated for the Super Bowl caused a dark spot to appear on the Superdome surface. This has been corrected, too. Nowadays, a new, entirely computerized system illuminates the Superdome, Curl says, adding presumably in hyperbole, "It's so bright it will now blind them."

Although Pisano says some potential owners for a baseball team are waiting quietly in the wings -- this is one of the criteria Ueberroth listed as being necessary for a city to acquire a team -- Wallace says, "At this point in time, I can't say that we have a potential owner in waiting."

There is noticeable baseball frustration in New Orleans. Several years ago, a preseason major league baseball exhibition would draw more than 40,000 in the Superdome. Many figured this was a sign to major league baseball. Last year, though, only slightly more than 10,000 showed for two exhibition games and now Curl says there will be no more exhibitions.

Through it all, New Orleans looks to the future hoping to be considered more than just an also-ran among the vying cities. "I really believe we'd draw 2 million in our first year," Pisano says. D.C. Season Sales Near 2,000 By a Washington Post Staff Writer

Although the D.C. Baseball Commission yesterday canceled a planned announcement of season ticket sales, it was learned that at least 1,727 have been sold. That means $952,209 is in escrow accounts at 22 banks around the area, according to a source.

The commission decided against releasing numbers because the total available does not include all the tickets actually Saints in town than with adding a baseball club. Finally, New Orleans auto dealer Tom Benson completed a deal to purchase the Saints from John Mecom after receiving several concessions from lawmakers, including a repeal of a 14 percent tax on Superdome sports events.

"A lot of other cities have promoted baseball a lot better than we have," said Pisano, who has been chairman of the mayor's committee for four years. "The problem is that the mayor and the legislature have been more concerned with the Saints right now. We haven't had a baseball meeting for three or four months."

In fact, Pisano notes, New Orleans did not even have a representative at the most recent baseball league meeting "for the first time in three or four years."

New Orleans does have many things to entice major league baseball. For one, the Superdome, with what Wallace calls "the biggest public floor space under a roof anywhere." It seats 71,000 for football, more than 50,000 for baseball, includes 170,000 square feet for tenant space and another 100,000 square feet for convention and meeting space on the second floor. No wonder when a radio station held a "Name the Dome" contest in 1974, the winning name was Big Mother Arena.

For another thing, Louisiana possesses a fascinating baseball history. It can be traced to the Evangeline League of the 1930s, which included teams in towns like Opelousas and New Iberia and Rayne and had stars with names like Tarzan Stephenson, the all-star outfielder for Lafayette.

In the 1950s, you could find the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association. That team drew well until air conditioning came into vogue, Curl says, and many fans retreated to the cool of their homes to escape the intolerable summer heat.

And in 1977, in the Dome, there were the New Orleans Pelicans of the Class AAA American Association. The team had Benny Ayala, Doug Capilla and Manny Castillo. It drew only 3,000 fans per game in its one last-place season, however, and moved to a new city and finally settled as the Louisville Redbirds.

In the past, when the baseball pooh-bahs have pointed to New Orleans' baseball flaws, the Superdome has reacted. There was the bothersome seam in the AstroTurf that ran between the pitcher's mound and first base and caused bad bounces for the Pelicans of 1977. The Superdome has replaced the old turf with the highest-quality AstroTurf 8 by Monsanto.

In 1978, a sophisticated lighting system incorporated for the Super Bowl caused a dark spot to appear on the Superdome surface. This has been corrected, too. Nowadays, a new, entirely computerized system illuminates the Superdome, Curl says, adding presumably in hyperbole, "It's so bright it will now blind them."

Although Pisano says some potential owners for a baseball team are waiting quietly in the wings -- this is one of the criteria Ueberroth listed as being necessary for a city to acquire a team -- Wallace says, "At this point in time, I can't say that we have a potential owner in waiting."

There is noticeable baseball frustration in New Orleans. Several years ago, a preseason major league baseball exhibition would draw more than 40,000 in the Superdome. Many figured this was a sign to major league baseball. Last year, though, only slightly more than 10,000 showed for two exhibition games and now Curl says there will be no more exhibitions.

Through it all, New Orleans looks to the future hoping to be considered more than just an also-ran among the vying cities. "I really believe we'd draw 2 million in our first year," Pisano says.