For all intents and purposes, I really thought American Legion baseball was officially dead in this parish already.
Because I knew Mr. M.L. “Tigue” Moore and worked closely alongside him during many Legion seasons, it’s been a demise difficult to watch over the years.
As each year went by and top players flocking to travel teams instead of playing American Legion ball became the norm, those of us who remember the heyday of Legion summer ball basically resigned ourselves to the sad reality.
As high school coaches began to treat Legion ball as summer training camp for the next high school spring season instead of an actual competition, our coverage continued to wane down to almost nothing.
Instead of just bowing down to the disturbing trend, Donnie Boutin decided to try to do something about it.
In Boutin’s case, two factors were motivating him.
One, Boutin played during the glory years of American Legion baseball in Lafayette. Even better, he played on ‘the’ team – Lafayette’s state championship Mr. Cook team of 1981.
I can’t tell you how many times Mr. Moore told me stories about that championship summer, highlighted by Garrett O’Connor’s legendary 12th inning, game-winning home run. First and foremost, Mr. Moore was all about opportunity for the kids and following the rules, but he also enjoyed winning while trying to do things the right way.
Like so many who played Legion ball in the 1970s and 1980s in these parts, Boutin grew to appreciate all the rigid ideals Mr. Moore stood for as he ran the local Legion program and set it up financially for years to come before his death on Feb. 16, 1994.
“I grew up playing Legion ball,” Boutin said. “We had so much respect for Mr. Moore. I hated hearing that (Legion ball was dying).”
Secondly, Boutin has two sons in Derek and Devin who weren’t really part of the new-age Legion plan.
For decades, each high school had a Legion team and hoped for outgoing seniors to play as long as they could to make the team more competitive. The recent trend, however, was not to keep players who were out of high school eligibility.
Instead, Legion ball in the summer was little more than a training camp for young prospects in preparation for the following spring.
Until this summer, that is.
Boutin approached local American Legion boss Chris Domingue, a longtime Legion coach of the Carencro-based Bankers, about a new way of running the league.
The 2015 Delhomme Drillers consists of mostly Acadiana High players, but also includes players from Comeaux, Carencro and even Westminster.
The team got in 10 of 12 scheduled games this summer with a perfect 10-0 record thus far in a league that also included two teams from Abbeville, Iota and Crowley.
Instead of a sub-regional tournament to determine the area’s two state tournament representatives, the top two teams in the standings advance to state.
So Delhomme and Crowley (6-4) will head to Kirsch-Rooney Field in New Orleans for the state tournament July 19-23.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Domingue said. “I think it worked very well this summer. In my heart, I believe it can work long-term.
“The main thing is that it gives our seniors an opportunity to continue playing. I think it’s a win-win.”
Boutin and Domingue are hoping for at least a second team to emerge from Lafayette. For instance, Northside High has already expressed interest in taking part next summer.
Furthermore, plans are under way to make it more fan-friendly, like inviting teams from other states –perhaps even the defending national champion – to Lafayette next summer to play in a big tournament and bring some interest back to Legion ball.
Remember, money and overall resources were never the issue in the fall of Legion. It was a new philosophy and the travel ball phenomenon that derailed Mr. Moore’s original plan.
Two decades ago, first-round picks in the MLB draft from our area played American Legion ball. These days, kids who aren’t even considered in the 40th round are still on travel teams.
This new approach allows for both. It allows for quality players like Boutin’s two sons who aren’t planning to play college ball to still compete, as well as any underclassmen who aren’t interested in the travel-ball format.
Don’t get the idea, though, that anyone interested in playing college ball isn’t for Legion. On this Delhomme team, Comeaux’s Antonio Culotta is going to UL, Westminster’s Richard Hebert, Carencro’s Koi Westbrook and Acadiana’s John Joslin are headed to LSU Eunice and Carencro’s Jacob Norman to the SLU Lions.
Also, Acadiana’s Tyler LaPorte and Tanner Broussard are considering junior college offers.
“A lot of these kids played together when they were younger and they’re just really having a lot of fun this summer,” Boutin said. “I think it can work in the future. It allows you to draw in more of the older kids.
“ I’d really like to see it grow. I don’t think some kids realize the opportunities that are there.”
To help Delhomme and Crowley to prepare for the state tournament, they’re going to play a three-team, round-robin with Jesuit-based Retif Oil of New Orleans at Sellers Field in Abbeville on July 11.
The Drillers sport strong pitching options in Derek Boutin, Norman, Joslin, Broussard, Hebert, Dakota Cloteaux and Jaren Neef. Delhomme also had a deep infield with LaPorte, Westbrook and Culotta.
“To win any championship, you need to get some breaks, but yes, we feel like we’ve got a chance to win a state championship,” Boutin said.
In addition to competing for a title and potentially an all-expenses-paid trip to the national tournament, Domingue remembers attention gained through Legion postseason tournaments earning late college opportunities for some of his former players.
It all certainly sounds like a workable solution to what was seemingly a hopeless situation.
If indeed it’s a new way to keep Mr. Moore’s dream alive, I’m all for it.