There's Nothing Slight About Louisiana's Little Leaguers

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Louisiana gave it's all in the 2021 Little League World SeriesRuhrfisch - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

By Tani Levitt

It’s been three years since there was a professional baseball game in the state of Louisiana. Wikipedia lists well over one hundred professional baseball teams who once called the Pelican State home, but since the New Orleans Baby Cakes decamped for Wichita, Kansas, after the 2018 season, there has not been professional baseball in the state. Since then, Louisiana’s Little Leaguers have been carrying the torch for the state’s baseball tradition, a burden the young athletes did not ask for, but one they have carried comfortably.

Louisiana has sent a team to each of the past two Little League World Series, all-star teams from Eastbank in 2019, and now Lafayette in 2021. Watching the 2021 team at a local bar, one fan said, “I freaking love that Louisiana is in the world series. I like all Louisiana sports, so whether it’s Little League or college, pros, whatever. I go for Louisiana no matter what.”

After winning the 2019 LLWS, Louisiana head coach Scott Frazier said that “people from New Orleans and Louisiana, in general, are very resilient types of people. This team exemplifies the resiliency that we have from the area that we come from.” His squad lost its first game against Hawaii, and faced elimination in the following six matchups, including a rematch with Hawaii in the USA final, and the final against Curacao. After a year off due to COVID-19, the 2021 Louisiana squad picked right back up where the 2019 team left off.

At the Southwest regional, the Lafayette all-stars were separated from their parents who were not part of the coaching staff to protect the players and coaches from COVID-19 and still had to weather a COVID-19 outbreak that forced two teams out of the tournament. Meanwhile, on the field, they found themselves down 2-0 late in the regional final to West Texas, a team they had comfortably beaten in the opener. A pair of hustle plays on the basepaths in the bottom of the 5th tied the game for Lafayette, sealing the comeback win and a spot in Williamsport an inning later.

Once in Williamsport, Louisiana found things much harder than they had at the regional. At the regionals, they outscored opponents 23-3 but found themselves on the receiving end of a combined no-hitter by the South Dakota all-stars and the breakout pitcher of the tournament, Gavin Wier, who struck out 15 Louisiana batters in 5 ⅔ innings. A lesser team might have folded in their next game, but Louisiana rebounded against the local Pennsylvania team, beating them 5-3 before bowing out against Ohio, the eventual runners-up, in the second round of the elimination bracket.

This Louisiana team in its current form is gone. Unlike the departure of professional baseball from Louisiana, that’s part of the appeal with Little League. Next year, new all-stars will emerge, and the players who grow out of this age group have new fans who will be rooting for them as they disappear for a few years, and reappear on the high school honor roll, in local business, and potentially, on a college or professional roster. However, this year, circumstances dictate that the Lafayette all-stars stay relevant for a bit longer after they left the Little League World Series.

The boys from Lafayette flew home from Williamsport early last week, and a week after their neighbors gathered to watch their games, they now gather to evacuate the state or to shelter together in the face of the worst hurricane Louisiana has seen since Katrina.

In the runup to the Baby Cakes’ move to Kansas, Mark Nasser, the longtime broadcaster for the team, told NOLA.com that even a decade after Hurricane Katrina, he felt it had a major impact on the team’s ultimate departure. “After (Katrina), it didn't feel as populated in the city, and it seemed like people had been through so much that it seemed baseball had become secondary to everything else that was going on in life in this area.”

Once again, sports will become secondary to everything else going on in Louisiana, but the community can find strength and inspiration from the resilience of Louisiana’s Little League all-stars. As coach Frazier said, those boys were reflecting resiliency from the place they came from.

Tani Levitt is a freelance journalist and a journalism student at New York University. He cares about baseball, beatboxing, and breathing – roughly in that order. You can find his work @HateItOrLevitt on Twitter.

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