They are the wandering nomads of high school baseball and softball.
With fields under construction at St. James High in Vacherie, the baseball and softball programs have had to make unusual arrangements to both play and practice during the 2019 season.
For the baseball team, practice takes place mostly at the school’s football field.
“It’s been very frustrating for the kids not to be able to practice and develop their talents that they need on the baseball field,” said Wildcats baseball coach Lou Guillot, whose team is off to a 3-7 start. “We practice on the football field. They’ve been working hard staying focused and determined to get it together and play baseball.”
“We practice here,” said Guillot, referring to the football field. “We did have an ability at Lutcher High School. They have opened their arms to let us go there. We will probably go and have a few (practices) over there. We’ve been here since we have everything to do it and we have been working on more drill-type stuff.”
While the baseball team is slated to play all of its games on the road, at least the Wildcats get to stay home for practice, albeit on the football field.
The St. James softball team, on the other hand, has found a “home away from home” at the Lutcher Park athletic complex. It allows the softball team a “home field” of sorts for games but the Lady Wildcats have to travel, not only for games, but also for practice.
“This way we can get six or seven ‘home’ games instead of having to go to New Orleans every other day for all those district games,” said Lady Wildcats softball coach Benton Ford, whose team is off to a 4-5 start.
“It’s really frustrating because you have to be taken out of school time just to come here for practice and you cutting practice short, so you can get home at a reasonable time. It’s very difficult and frustrating,” said Chakirrious Parker, a freshman pitcher and third baseman.
Being able to practice at the Lutcher Park could give the Lady Wildcats a bit of a “home field advantage” as they learn the nuances of their new venue.
“They have a couple of bumps and holes that we kind of know and the other team’s don’t, so it helps out a little bit but it would be nice to have our own place, obviously,” said Ford.
“It’s different fields so you have different humps and bumps on the field. It’s definitely challenging from that aspect. It’s not really the field, it’s what you do on the field,” Parker said.
For the baseball team, playing on an artificial football surface with a track around it, has caused the Wildcats to improvise.
“When we have track (practice) out here, we have to use ‘incrediballs’ (a softer, spongy-type ball that can be used indoors) when we hit so we don’t hurt anybody. We use them out here to throw batting practice so we don’t hurt anyone working out on the track. When they are not here, we are able to use real balls and get our BP like that,” explained Guillot.
“We can work on fielding. Hitting is hard because you can’t hit any real balls because track is practicing but we make it work,” said Tyler Steib, a junior pitcher and third baseman on the baseball team.
Looking to find a silver lining one might be that baseball team has four ‘home’ games scheduled for the Lutcher High field. Two of those could end up being played on a college field at Nicholls in Thibodaux.
“All four games right now are scheduled at Lutcher and are working for two of them to be at Nicholls. Right now, Lusher and Haynes will be played at Lutcher and we are trying to get U-High and De La Salle to be played at Nicholls,” said Guillot.
As much as anything, the unusual practice and game schedules are about attitude, according to some of the players.
“It’s been hard but we are putting in the work and at practice everybody has been hustling and doing what they are supposed to do. We just have to stay focused, no matter where we play,” said Steib.
“I just try to block out all adversity and just play my game and try to focus on the bigger picture of winning and achieving our goals,” Parker said.
The trials and tribulations of the 2019 season should prove to be worth the wait as a new state-of-the-art four-field baseball and softball complex complete with covered batting cages for both programs await St. James in 2020.
“It will be nice once it’s completed,” said Guillot. “We will have turf infields and lights. We can have later games and get our fans and family members here. It will be very nice to have a practice field or seventh- and eighth-grade field, and a varsity-jayvee field with turf.”
With Steib being a junior and Parker having played on the softball team as an eighth grader, they will have the experience of playing at the old St. James High fields, their homes away from homes an ushering in the new complex in 2020.
“I’m really excited because it’s supposed to be top-notch and better than what we had before,” said Parker. “I look forward to us not having to leave early and have our own home field instead of a ‘home’ away field.”
“I think everybody is looking forward to playing in the new facility,” Steib said. “Who doesn’t like things that are new?”