Sport brings together four generations of Zeppuhar men
It would be hard for the Zeppuhars to have a bigger Father’s Day than the ones they have every weekend.
For the Zeppuhars (pronounced zephyrs), Saturdays and Sundays are about fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters. And baseball.
Get more than two Zeppuhars together — there are way more Zeppuhars than two — and it sounds like a script reading for “It Happens Every Spring” with the Bowery Boys.
What does it mean to have his grandfather Ray in the stands when he pitches?
“I play the best I can,” said Zane Zeppuhars. “It doesn’t make any difference.”
“Speak up!” Ray said. “I’ve never heard you say anything nice about me.”
Next to shagging fly balls for his sons, grandsons and great-grandson, Ray, who takes his oxygen through a mask, has long loved playing verbal pepper with the boys.
Zane, 12, often says nice things about Ray, but Zane talks with his bat.
When Zane puts one over the fence for the Ascension Mets, he makes Ray a present of the home run ball. Ray will be in the stands or in a chair behind the fence near home plate.
“When Zane gives Ray one of those home run balls, the parents get teary eyed,” said Sarah Zeppuhar, Joe’s wife.
“I don’t give him all the balls,” Zane said. “Some of them are hit so far, we can’t find them.”
“Right,” said Ray. “Landed in a passing vegetable truck.”
If it was just cracking wise, the Zeppuhars would be boring.
“He’s an eccentric guy,” said son Joe. “Kids would come from blocks around to play with the stuff he built in our backyard.”
Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, Ray, 93, grew up in Oklahoma City. Now, he lives at the Southeast Louisiana War Veteran’s Home in Reserve.
Ray sold General tires on Florida Boulevard, across from Borden’s and Hopper’s Drive-In.
He found time to make a pitcher’s mound in the backyard on Cloud Drive for his boys, Joe and Pat.
“With a pitching rubber, backstop and home plate,” said Pat, who played baseball and football at Baton Rouge High School.
Pat, 56, and Joe, 62, pitched and caught on the Bulldog Nine. The brothers quarterbacked the Bulldog Elevens of their classes.
Ray was at every game, Pat said.
When Ray’s boys had sons, Jarod and Chad, the old man made their games.
“I can’t remember a time when I looked in the stands and didn’t see him,” Joe said. “Practices and games. Baseball and football.”
When Chad, Joe’s son, played baseball, Joe built a full-size batting cage in the backyard on Rainier Drive.
Ray pitched to sons Pat and Joe, shagging the balls they drove past him. He made the “first” T-ball stand from a brake drum and a metal pipe. A short piece of garden hose atop the vertical pipe served as the tee.
To put some movement on the ball, Ray put a baseball inside a sock and hung the ball in the sock from the carport ceiling.
A version of the hit-o-matic used a clothespin to let the batted ball fly.
“I had to put a chain on the ball,” Ray said, “to keep the ball from going into the street.”
When Ray and his wife, Josie, visited their children, Ray, invariably, called a practice session with Pat and Joe pitching to their boys and Ray running down flies or taking hot grounders.
Today, another woman, Sarah, Joe’s wife, is at Ray’s side.
“She makes this work,” Ray said.
Sarah or Joe, who live in St. Amant, pick up Ray on Saturday and Sunday mornings in Reserve. Ray has to be back at the veterans’ home for dinner.
Sarah or Joe collects Ray or their sons, Zane, 12, and Slade, 9, for the often long drives to often different ballparks.
“It’s never the same ballpark,” Sarah said. “Or town.”
One weekend, Zane was playing in Houma. Slade’s game was in Gonzales.” Ray, of course, was in Reserve, 30 minutes from Joe and Sarah’s in St. Amant.
To make the road schedule work, Pat, who lives in Baton Rouge, sometimes takes his dad back to Reserve.
Father’s Day, Zane is playing in Baton Rouge. Slade and Tanner are in Lafayette.
One recent day at the ballpark, Chad’s son, Tanner, played against his Uncle Slade.
“Here comes the weird part,” said Tanner.
Uncle Slade is 9; his nephew is 10.
The Zeppuhars’ explanation of how that came about is more involved than the “Infield Fly Rule.”
Ray no longer hollers at ball games.
“I squeak, now,” he said.
Ray applauds good play regardless of the team.
“We have a lot of fun with baseball,” said Ray Zeppuhar.