Live sports have largely been a mere memory since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. several weeks ago.
But recently those magic words “Play ball!” finally rang out. Marty Luquet couldn’t be happier to hear them, a sentiment he no doubt shared with his players and the strong crowd in attendance on Saturday evening.
Luquet got to return to the dugout to coach the sport he loves as his Gauthier-Amedee team played a doubleheader against the Southland Hogs in American Legion competition, providing catharsis for the longtime Destrehan High School baseball skipper and two squads of prep players who had their seasons ended prematurely thanks to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was great to be back on the field,” Luquet said. “The kids are excited and we had a very large crowd. They spaced themselves out and got to watch these kids in action. It’s just great to be back.
“Especially for the senior guys, there was no closure for (the players). Their seasons just ended. Their careers just ended. It just wasn’t right. I knew they’d be excited to be out here. This is all so different than anything we’ve ever been through.”
Gauthier lost the first game of the doubleheader in tough fashion, losing a lead with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to a Southland walk-off home run. Gauthier was leading in the second game, 4-3, when rain began to fall and necessitated play be suspended. Gauthier went on to win the game when play resumed on Monday.
“It was a tough way to lose, two strikes, two outs, up a run and then a homer. But they still loved it. They had so much fun,” Luquet said.
Luquet and his players are among the lucky few at the current time who are permitted to get on the field. Because the LHSAA is currently not allowing high school programs participate in any kind of team activities (as to not allow some schools to get a head start on others electing to continue distancing due to the pandemic), the majority of teams based from a given high school cannot participate in Legion, including Hahnville and Destrehan, which have each played summer ball under or outside of the legion banner annually.
Gauthier-Amedee, however, is one of a handful of teams that doesn’t draw from any one school – the Wombat’s roster is a mixture of St. Amant, Dutchtown and East Ascension players, and Luquet does not coach any of them in prep competition. The Southland Hogs are another with that kind of construct, as are the St. Charles Parish-based Gibbs Cardinals, previously known as Pedal Valves.
“The three of us are really the only ones into the swing of it right now,” Luquet said. “Destrehan, Jesuit, Holy Cross, they can’t under the high school guidelines. At Riverside, we can’t. We can’t get together at all. But these guys aren’t my players (in prep ball). They travel under American Legion baseball.”
Luquet retired in 2014 after a long, successful run at Destrehan and a head coaching career that saw him amass a record of 447-251 over 24 seasons, including tenures at O. Perry Walker and St. James. His record was even sharper in his years specific to Destrehan, as he won 310 games and lost 137. He led Destrehan to the playoffs in 14 consecutive seasons and guided the Wildcats to two Class 5A state championship games.
He admits coaching never left his heart, and he couldn’t stay away from the diamond very long. He began coaching with Gauthier-Amedee during the summer of 2017. In 2018, the Wombats captured the American Legion state championship under his watch.
But it didn’t quite scratch the itch completely, and he joined the Riverside baseball program as an assistant coach in late 2019. This was his first season with the team – but 10 games in, the season was suddenly over.
“I retired, and I went right back to coaching. I couldn’t stand just sitting around at home. Then 10 games in, they sent me back home. I had a voluntary retirement and then a forced one,” Luquet quipped.
As for the gameplay on Saturday, it went as a fan might expect: pitchers were way ahead of the hitters, Luquet noted, given there’s been scant time in the batting cage for players since the middle of March. Gauthier was able to get in one day at a hitting facility prior to its season opener.
But though the doubleheader was cut a bit short, it supplied what these players, parents and coaches have craved for so long.
“There was a great turnout. They were ready for it, to see those kids,” Luquet said. “The greatest thing in the world is watching your child play ball and seeing them do what they love to do.”