Forty years ago, parish ball parks were different
Forty years is a long time in the life-span of a human. It was 40 years ago, in the spring of 1977, that I first made my rounds of the Iberville Parish ball fields to cover sports for the Post South.
That long ago, the only big ballparks were in the larger cities of the state. Iberville, a rural area back then, had the very basics of facilities.
However, the public and private school systems in the parish began to make rapid changes and upgrades.
Plaquemine High already had a new field, adjacent to the new school facility built a few years before my arrival. Soon afterward, ballparks were built at St. John and White Castle High, while not longer after, a new facility was created at the new East Iberville High.
The now defunct Shady Grove High, later renamed North Iberville High, remained the same for years, and then, the field facilities were upgraded.
Here are a few capsule accounts of my first round trip around Iberville baseball parks:
…PHS was the state of the art after the move from old PHS, on Regina Street, to Belleview Rd. Down through the years, the park was upgraded several times with new stands, dugouts, and fencing. However, the biggest improvement in the last decade or so was better drainage. More than one Green Devil coach complained about standing water on the field after typical Louisiana rainy seasons. Back in 1977, the right field fence and school property ran adjacent to a cow pasture. The PHS baseballers love to this day to tell the story about a Green Devil hitting a homer over the right field fence and hitting a cow in the side.
…St. John had a new ballpark nestled on the undeveloped west side of the school property in the early 1980s or so. It had short fence, but plenty enough pitching over the next couple of decades to claim state runner-up honors twice and a long list of consecutive postseason berths. The average SJHS team in those early years in their park had good pitching, outstanding catching, and great sluggers in their lineup. All-State standouts Tony Lamothe and Roderick Jones were two of my favorites, while Paru Gilchrist was a solid and crafty left-handed pitcher.
However, earlier in the seventies, both PHS and SJHS played at old E.J. Gay School (now the MSA Science and Arts Academy). The field, which had no outfield fence, was located on the east side of the property, near the teachers’ parking lot.
SJHS was still playing at E.J. Gay, while PHS had moved to the new school facility on Belleview, during the 1977 season. I will never forget the Eagles scoring over 30 runs against one of the worst prep diamond teams I have ever seen. Simmesport High had an over 300-lb. youth playing catcher. He must have given up over 20 passed balls in the game and loafed his way to the backstop, never making a play.
…White Castle played back in 1977 at an elementary school field, south of the town and across from the American Legion Hall. I cannot remember the name of the school.
The Bulldog players were a happy bunch and exciting to watch. They were daredevils on the base paths and could slug long balls that rolled all the way to the back of the school because there was no outfield fence. One Bulldog player tapped a photo of an old girlfriend to his upper ankle, so when he would side into more than one base in the outing, he shred the gal’s photo to bits.
Back in 1977, Sunshine High (now the St. Gabriel municipal center) played baseball behind the school. Like E.J. Gay and WCHS’ home field, the Tigers’ facility had no outfield fence. The Tigers had some good ball clubs back then and more than one home run rolled all the way to where Principal Gerald Trent sat watching the games outside a school doorway.
The field had one small set of stands and a small backstop. Directly behind was a field of bushes and small trees. You could pick blackberries right behind the stands. At least two kids a game would chase through the bushes to find foul balls to reuse them and keep Coach Bob Grace happy.
When EIHS was completed, the school system built a very nice ballpark adjacent to the football field. It is well kept and improved over the years. It is located over one half of the old St. Gabriel High football field.
I have a memory of one of the first years at EIHS when the diamond team came up one player short of nine fielders. The players yelled at a student walking home past the field and got him to drop his school bags and head for right field. This year’s Tigers had one of their best seasons in recent springs.
…The old Shady Grove field, like PHS, was adjacent to a cow pasture. The facilities remained old through the change of the school name to North Iberville. However, some facility updates were made prior to the closing of the high school.
Both SGHS and NIHS had some outstanding sluggers down through the years. They often landed home runs in the Grosse Tete road, just beyond the left and center field fences and ditch.
M.J. Anderson was a standout all-around athlete and ended up the starting shortstop at Southern University. Sean Stockman pitched a Bear team deep into the playoffs. Damien Bayham was a standout three-sport standout and slugger. But back in the day of the 1970s SGHS clubs, Michael Woods and Orlando Baptiste developed into minor-league diamond players.
I always enjoyed going up to “The Grove”. That is the prettiest campus in the Parish. I always felt I was in a wonderful pastoral environment with oak trees around the campus, thick woods behind and cows watching the game on the other side of the right field fence. I like it to giving me a “Walden Pond” state of mind.