GONZALES — When the Gauthier & Amedee Post 81 American Legion baseball team heads to North Little Rock, Ark. this weekend for the Mid-South Regional Baseball Tournament and a shot at next week’s American Legion World Series, they will do so with new faces.
Well, kind of.
After a disappointing regional tournament ouster last year, the team returned this summer with a new resolve and a handful of players who played for other travel teams a year ago.
Like pre-existing members, the group came from rival Ascension Parish high schools. Members old and new have not only put that aside rivalries but thrived to form a powerhouse that sports a 42-3 record.
“You have to have firefighters to put out fires, but you also have to have firelighters,” Gauthier & Amedee coach Justin Morgan said. “These guys are firelighters. You have guys who’ve come together and are passionate, hard working and play to the fullest.
“These are kids from within a five-mile radius. The new kids came from other (summer) programs with good coaching and winning atmospheres. It’s carried over.”
The good-natured digs and ribbing one might expect from young men who in some cases have been rivals twice over have been present. As have the seemingly unavoidable little “cultural” differences that come about, even in different areas of a parish.
Pitcher-first baseman Cole Stapler played last summer for Marruci Elite’s Baton Rouge-based club. The Dutchtown graduate will play his college ball at Nicholls State.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Stapler said. “Everybody’s blended so well. Coming from rival teams and different (summer) teams, you come in and wonder if you’ll like playing with the other guys. Before, it was being fired up by competitiveness playing against these guys. And there’s the pride. But we saw what happens when we play together. We do great things.”
Another Dutchtown Griffin, Collin Delaune, was part of Mizuno’s Baton Rouge team last year. He played for Marucci the two previous summers.
Delaune said he hopes to walk on at Southeastern Louisiana.
“This is one of the funnest teams I have been a part of,” Delaune said. “We all knew each other from back in the day, and with EA, DHS and St. Amant. Huge rivals, but there’s something about this group of guys that’s been unbelievable. It’s amazing how well we’ve worked together.”
St. Amant senior-to-be Blaine Schexnayder is another Gauthier & Amedee newcomer, making the move from the Gonzales-based Pit Stop Exxon Metro team. The shortstop said the transition to a new environment has been rewarding.
“It’s funny how when we came here nobody really knew each other,” Schexnayder said. “But these same guys become your best friends. That’s 42 wins and three losses. Everybody’s proud of it. Now we get to go out and do what we’ve been doing: trusting each other and playing together.”
The feeling amongst some in the summer ball community has been that increasing numbers of larger corporate sponsorships of travel teams has led to a migration away from homegrown talent playing on American Legion clubs recently. Some travels team offer superior equipment and facility access.
While that is the case, this summer’s Post 81 converts said word of mouth and a winning history drew them to Gauthier & Amedee.
“I’d had fun before, but all the guys here were telling me about how fun it was,” Delaune said. “Well, I’ve loved it. If I had to do it all over again, I would.”