Evening rain is as reliable as morning heat in a New Orleans summer.
When storms start, the administration at Carrollton Boosters’ playground starts scrambling. Cancellations, postponements, field adjustments and a string of notification responsibilities fill the inboxes and time sheets of the volunteer coordinators as baseball and softball schedules are thrown into a tizzy.
Carrollton and its 1,500 youths aren’t alone. The issue is extrapolated out to area high schools and middle schools as well, who are all seeking dry ground in a soggy season.
In the past year, Carrollton built a silver bullet against Mother Nature.
The construction of a multimillion dollar facility at the former site of Avenger Field in Audubon Park, complete with field turf and first-class drainage technology, has changed the dynamic, not only for its leagues, but also for the betterment of baseball in New Orleans.
“Weather has always been a headache,” Carrollton president David Sumrall said. “But if you want to play baseball or softball in New Orleans, it’s something you have to deal with. Luckily, we now how have a way to help not only ourselves, but also the rest of the community by having a field out here that can withstand enough water, that the only delay comes from lightning.”
While the new privately funded field is a part of Carrollton, its officials and benefactors are quick to point out it’s also a part of New Orleans. The land sits on Audubon Park, directly behind its tennis courts, and its participants have come from all over the metro area.
More than 20 schools have used Carrollton’s facilities to play around weather and a shortage of sufficient playing space in the Uptown area. Baseball programs including Loyola University, McMain High School and Stuart Hall’s middle school have used Carrollton’s fields.
The new facility was constructed as a versatile space, equipped with a movable pitcher’s mound, dashed baselines for a variety of infield distances, designated batting cages, and an outfield deep enough to challenge high school and college hitters.
“It’s a fantastic place for us to practice, and it’s a wonderful addition to the baseball landscape in New Orleans and especially Uptown,” Isidore Newman School Athletic Director Billy Fitzgerald said. “Carrollton is a first-class organization, and the stadium really is top notch, especially that turf. It has given us so much more flexibility in what we can do. And our partnership with Carrollton is valuable to us, but the field has been great for the community as a whole.”
In the spring, the facility proved to be of great value to those who aren’t even partnered with the playground. A series of storms soaked every available field and delayed a potential LHSAA playoff game between Lakeshore and Lutcher so long that the contest was put in jeopardy.
At the last minute, a call went in to Carrollton, which agreed to host the matchup, allowing the playoffs to proceed normally. It was a moment incoming president Storey Charbonnet said was emblematic of the stadium’s function as well as the organization’s desire to be an integral part of baseball in the city.
“When we got that phone call in the late afternoon from the schools, we weren’t sure what to do, but wanted to try everything in our power to make it happen,” Charbonnet said. “We were so proud we pulled it off. As we were starting this project, we went to Ron Forman (CEO of Audubon Nature Institute) and the folks at Audubon, and this is exactly what we had in mind; a place where kids in New Orleans can play 365 days per year.”
It’s also paid dividends for Carrollton’s own registration numbers. The 13-14-year-old division was on the brink of extinction before the construction but has since doubled, according to Sumrall.
“This park has been everything we envisioned it to be,” Charbonnet said. “There was a time when we were going to go with a typical grass field and make this like any other park, but the more we looked at it, the more we realized there was a chance to make a bigger difference. So we went for it, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive so far.”