Page Turner: 10th inning home run sends LSUS to World Series

THRILL OF VICTORY:  The LSUS Pilots celebrate their walk-off win Thursday at home sending them to the NAIA World Series. 

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

For almost 10 innings, LSUS senior Jaylin Turner didn’t do a whole lot in Thursday’s deciding game of the Shreveport Regional against Loyola (New Orleans). Basically, he just cheered for his teammates and maybe waved a towel or two.

And then he grabbed a bat and all that changed.

With one swing, Turner created one of the greatest moments in the Pilots’ athletic history.

Called on to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, the left-hander launched a ball well over the fence in right field to give LSUS a 9-7 win over the Wolf Pack at Pilot Field.

Greatest home run Turner has ever hit? “By far,” the 6-5 Georgia native said.

But it shouldn’t have come to anyone’s surprise. After all, Turner hit one in the seventh inning Wednesday in a game LSUS had to win in order to advance to Thursday’s regional-deciding contest.

“My teammates had been playing their behinds off all day,” Turner said. “If I hit it out, fine. If I don’t, I just needed to get on base. I was just trying to get something going.”

Instead of getting something going, he got something ending.

It was a nerve-racking game that was part of a nerve-racking week for LSUS, which came in as one of the top-ranked teams in the country but had to win four straight games after losing Monday’s opener (also to Loyola) to advance to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

Turner’s home run came with two strikes. He might not have even had the chance if JJ Flores had not been hit by a pitch with two outs.

“To be honest with you, he (Turner) gets better the deeper he gets in the count,” said LSUS coach Brad Neffendorf. “He’s got really big power. That’s kind of what he does. He hit it out and we walked it off.”

It was a sudden end of a tense game throughout, one that saw the score tied three times in the late innings and featured multiple pitchers working on one day’s rest, two momentum-turning home runs – that corresponded with two major-league bat flips – and multiple ejections of coaches and fans.

Having played four games in three days, Neffendorf didn’t really have much of a pitching plan, other than to start Kevin Miranda and take it from there. It was obvious almost from the start that Miranda didn’t have his usual stuff, but that was to be expected since he was pitching on only one day’s rest. The most telling sign? He had walked only nine batters all year and walked one in the first and two more in the second. However, he did set the school record for strikeouts in the first inning.

After Loyola scored two in the first on back-to-back RBI singles, the Wolf Pack came right back with two more, scoring on a fumbled suicide bunt and an RBI single to center.

That marked the end of the day for Miranda and brought on Bobby Vath, another starter on short rest. Vath did a great job holding Loyola in check while the Pilots slowly overcame leaving men on base.

Allbry Major hit two homers, including one in the seventh that gave LSUS a 7-5 lead. But Loyola’s Cameron Trosclair matched him with his own two-run homer to tie the score again in the eighth, eventually sending it into extra innings.

Pilots reliever Brad White (8-0) denied any future threats by retiring all six batters he faced in the ninth and 10th innings.

Then Turner stepped into the batter’s box.

“It’s tough, but you have to have grit and determination,” he said. “If you want your boys to win, you got to come in and do the job.”

It’s the second straight year for the Pilots to reach the World Series and their fifth overall appearance.

“I’ve never been to Idaho,” Turner said. “It’s going to be one heck of a ride.”

It already has been.

Photos by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

A lot of baseball, and a lot of heart

About the only thing missing was the 1 o’clock-in-the-morning starting game time and the hand-written bracket that looked like a step-ladder.

Otherwise, the Shreveport Regional of the 2022 NAIA baseball tournament had all the appearances of a 1980s weekend softball tournament. Double elimination, but if you lose early in the event, the deck is stacked against you. The only favorable option is to just keep playing and playing and playing.

And playing, which is what happened Thursday at Pilot Field, where LSUS finally got its collective head to sea level after threatening to drown all week.

Once it got to a game where there were no more options for either team, the Pilots felt like they were on even terms.

And they were actually on more even terms than many realize. This would be the fifth game in four days for LSUS, having to work its way through the loser’s bracket to get to the final matchup with Loyola (New Orleans).

But this was also Loyola’s fifth game in four days, since the Wolf Pack did not have the opening round bye that the Pilots did on Monday.

Just put it this way – it’s a lot of baseball for both teams.

You would have thought that the winner of this game would be the team less worn out than the other one. Sure, the pitching staffs were a little used up, but what was most impressive is how both teams took gut punches and responded.

LSUS coach Brad Neffendorf wasn’t about to go down without at least giving the ball to his two best pitchers – Kevin Miranda and Bobby Vath – who had combined for almost half of the team’s 50 wins.

“We just needed somebody to start it,” Nefferdorf said of Miranda. “And Vath kind of has a bullpen mentality on the mound.”

Loyola got ahead 4-0 but before the game could get away from them, the Pilots posted two runs with two outs on a bloop single to right and a wild pitch.

Not exactly a highlight video, but 4-2 was a whole lot better than 4-0.

The first of two home runs by Allbry Major tied it in the fourth, but Loyola came back to take the lead before LSUS came back again to tie it in the bottom of the sixth.

That led to two-run homers by both teams to keep it tied.

That’s responding with it all on the line. Neither team was going to lay down.

Neffendorf wasn’t surprised in the least because he’d seen it before.

On April 20, LSUS was down 5-3 to Southwestern Assemblies of God University going into the bottom of the ninth when pinch hitter Zyon Avery hit a two-out, two-run home run to send it into extra innings. The Pilots went on to win in 10 innings.

Thursday, a two-run home run by a pinch hitter (Jaylin Turner) with two outs won the game. Sound familiar?

And how about this? Turner was pinch hitting for … Zyon Avery.

“If we hadn’t gone through a game like that (in April), I don’t know,” Neffendorf said. “We’ve gone through a little bit of everything in the last few weeks. We just kept battling.”

Asked what won it for the Pilots, Neffendorf didn’t hesitate.

“It’s all about the players,” he added. “They’ve been resilient the whole year. What credit don’t they deserve?”


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

A time to appreciate, and times to anticipate

Saturday night in Sulphur – or maybe it will be Hammond – someone is going to catch a pop up or make a throw to first or get a strikeout. Or maybe it’ll be a walk-off hit, but it will happen.

The time, the place and the method really doesn’t matter. But when the last out is made (or last run is scored) in either the Class 5A state baseball finals (Sulphur) or the Division I finals (Hammond), that’s it. We’ll be done.

Another high school sports calendar will have run its course.

Seniors will graduate all across the state and those moments they have been pointing toward all their athletic life will officially be a memory. Another class steps up; another set of memories waiting to be made.

It starts in the heat of the late summer and ends in the heat of the late spring. It takes us for a ride throughout the calendar with the unexpected happening more often that you can count.

The stories within those nine months are what make high school sports so special. It’s not about the superstar who leaves for college early to get a jump on his next-level career. Those are the headliners and they certainly have their place.

Instead, focus on all the things that happen over the course of 40 weeks. Hopes. Dreams. Pain. Tears.

Life.

There’s a Class C basketball team in a town you’ve never heard of that just won its biggest game against the rival it could never beat. There’s a region, devastated by a natural disaster, that rallied just to field a high school football team because it was what they needed to do to feel normal.

There’s a girl who never played volleyball before and found a place on the team that did more for her self-esteem than anybody ever thought.

There’s the swimmer who missed being a state champion by .01 seconds or the softball player who took a called third strike with the bases loaded to end the game.

And there’s the kid who sat the bench at the Class 5A school, just waiting for his chance because his senior year was the only shot he was ever going to get. The kid who just wanted to play, even if it was a deep snapper or a courtesy runner.

They’ll hold trophies at the end of every sport’s season and everyone will smile as celebratory pictures and selfies are taken. Just a few feet away are the defeated opponents, who just knew it wasn’t going to be that way. It seems like that crushing pain will never go away. And then it does.

If you said high school sports are not like it used to be, you would be correct. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Athletic competition was never meant to be stagnant. We are always trying to run faster, throw harder and kick farther. That’s just athletics.

You have to look down into the core of high school athletics to see what’s going on now is what has always gone on. These are probably the greatest times and the greatest friends you’ll ever have. Tucked inside that calendar will be good memories and bad memories, but they will all be special.

And the best part of all? When it’s over, there’s another train coming.


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT: Biggest home game ever? Calvary hosts state semis tonight

SET FOR SEMIS: The Calvary Baptist Cavaliers baseball team has a ‘super cool’ opportunity to play a state semifinal game at home this evening, and has weathered many challenges to reach this point.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

For a school that’s won four baseball state championships, it might seem a little strange to hear that tonight’s LHSAA Division IV semifinal game might be the biggest ever played at Calvary’s home field.

But there’s an easy explanation for that: The Cavaliers have never played a home semifinal game before.

“Super cool,” is how head coach Jason Legg describes it.

In something of a tournament scheduling quirk, semifinal games in three of the Select divisions (II, III and IV) are being played at home sites. However, those winners will have very little time to celebrate; they’ll have to be in Hammond for the state finals on Saturday.

In previous years, the semifinals and finals were played at a predetermined location. In winning championships in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2019, Calvary has played semifinal games in Alexandria, Monroe, Ruston and Sulphur.

Now you know why tonight’s 7 o’clock matchup with Covenant Christian (Houma) at Trademark Field is as big as it can get.

“I really don’t love it from the perspective of the logistics involved,” Legg said. “Whenever we’ve been before, the semifinals and finals were always at the same place. But I do love that we are going to host the game. It’s going to be an unbelievable crowd and atmosphere.”

Last weekend, the Cavaliers found themselves in quite a battle in the quarterfinals. Calvary traveled to Catholic-Pointe Coupee and got a masterful performance on the mound from Blaine Rodgers in Game 1. But Catholic turned the tables in Game 2 and things got interesting both on and off the field.

“It was one of the most uncomfortable situations our team has been in,” Legg said. “But pressure is a privilege for us. We have trained the entire year on being comfortable in the uncomfortable. I think we rose to the occasion. It was great to see everything come to fruition of what we’ve strived for all year.”

Part of that comes from the schedule Calvary has played, which Legg calls “the toughest in school history.” Try this on for size: the Cavs have played Sulphur (twice) and Dutchtown. Both are in the Class 5A semifinals and all three were one-run games.

They have played three Division II semifinalists, Parkview Baptist (twice) and St. Louis (twice) and University. They played the top seed in Class 5A (Barbe) and the No. 2 seed in Class 4A (Neville). They have played 12 Class 5A teams and are 6-6 in those games.

But battling adversity has been a constant for the Cavs this year with the death of outfielder Lane Mangum in a boating accident a year ago and season-ending injuries to two players (Hutch Grace, Drew Bickham) during the ’22 season.

“Our team has learned a lot about itself this year,” Legg said. “The grind we have been through has prepared us for what we have learned over the last two months. I knew what we had and the depth that we had. The job was to figure out what we could put in front of them that would be enough to prepare them for this moment. And these last two games are what that’s all about.”

Calvary is 24-15 while Covenant Christian comes in with a 24-13 record. The Lions have had to win a Game 3 in both of the previous playoff series, including an 8-7 win over Central Catholic in the deciding game.

Connor Matherne is the top pitcher for the Lions. The 6-foot-1 righthander is a Delgado JC commitment.

Legg said Rodgers (5-4) will get the start on the mound. “I don’t think that’s any kind of secret,” he said. “He’s pitched unbelievably well the last three games. He’s had a super senior year. Behind him is anybody and everybody.”

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT: Parks brings added value to Mavericks franchise

PRODUCTIVE PLAYER: Paul Parks has not only been tough to stop for Shreveport Mavericks opponents, but his efforts to help build the roster and promote the team have been relentless. Shreveport is home tonight at 7:05 against Dallas.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Little did the Shreveport Mavericks know that when they brought in Paul Parks near the end of the 2021 season, they were bringing in more than a shooting guard.

They were also bringing in a “general manager.” Plus a “public relations” specialist.

And, as it turns out, an All-Star.

The 6-foot-4 Parks seems to have done it all for the Mavericks, both on and off the floor in the 2022 season. Not only is he one of the leading scorers in The Basketball League, he also helped assemble a team that is 14-3 as it prepares to take on the Dallas Skyline (13-3) tonight at the Gold Dome. Game time is 7:05 p.m. for a matchup of Central Division title contenders.

“I kind of helped Coach build the team this year,” Park says. “I knew a lot of players who were looking for job opportunities who could get the job done. Coach (Steve) Tucker trusted me with that and that was my role.”

Another role has been putting the ball in the basket and Parks made it clear pretty quickly that he was up to that challenge. He is the 10th leading scorer in the TBL and leads the league in 3-pointers made (62).

“We have a lot of options but I feel like I am the go-to guy,” Parks says. “But there’s a lot of us that do different things. We are just one together. I believe in all my teammates. Without them, there’s no me.”

Last month, he was chosen for the TBL All-Star Game, which brought in players from all six divisions.

“The All-Star game is quite an accomplishment for what I have been able to do and my teammates have been able to do,” he says. “But that’s not the biggest accomplishment we are trying to achieve. We want to bring the championship back to Shreveport.”

And he wants people to know about it, which is where the PR part of it comes in.

“I’ve been doing a lot of groundwork with the team trying to get the word out,” he says. “People are starting to see that we are for real and entertaining to watch. I just want to keep building that.”

A native of Georgia, Parks signed with Cleveland State out of high school but quickly returned home. He took more than a year off before enrolling at Carver Bible College and then moving on to Point (Ga.) University.

He has spent plenty of time playing minor league basketball before coming to Shreveport.

“Some guys from Atlanta told coaches about me,” he says. “They were looking for a scorer and they brought me in. I was there for the last part of the season and made an impact for the Mavericks. Coach Tucker liked what I brought to the team and just bonded from there.”

One of the things he brought to the team was a 51-point performance against Wichita last May. He was 18 of 31 from the field, including 10 3-pointers. “I couldn’t miss,” Parks says. “I didn’t even play fourth quarter. I think I could have scored a lot more.”

Parks will turn 32 years old next week and he hopes to keep things going with the Mavericks.

“It’s been a great experience,” he says. “I love being in Shreveport. I’m looking to finish my career here. I like the community and the feedback we are starting to get. More people are starting to learn about the team.”


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT: Benched by a bum knee, Calvary’s Bickham still leads

NOT THE PLAN: Senior Night wasn’t how Drew Bickham envisioned it, but the Calvary standout will still lead his team into the playoffs – just not with a glove and bat.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

He was trying to go from first to third on a ground ball in the second inning on March 10, a grounder that had been fumbled away across the diamond. That’s Calvary’s Drew Bickham for you; trying to take an extra base to get the team in better position to score.

But when he got about 10 feet from third base, he realized that he was going to be out. Because the throw back across the diamond had taken the Loyola third baseman into the base path, Bickham had to try to stop abruptly as he gave himself up for the tag.

Then he heard it.

Then he felt it.

And then he knew it.

“I guess I hoped for the best,” he says. “But I knew it was really bad.”

The pop in his right knee was unmistakable. Not only did third base coach Jason Legg hear it, so did the entire Loyola dugout. Bickham fell to the ground and by the time he got up, he knew his high school baseball career was over.

The guy who had been playing baseball for the Cavaliers since the eighth grade, the guy who had started on the mound in the first game that night, the guy who was hitting cleanup in the lineup.

That guy.

If you want to say that Drew Bickham was the heart and soul of the Calvary baseball team, you would be wrong. Drew Bickham is still the heart and soul of the Calvary baseball team.

“It’s like he’s still playing, but he’s not,” says freshman Maddux Lyddy. “It means a lot that he is still with us. He gets hurt his senior year and he’s out there like nothing happened.”

But plenty has happened.

The result of the injury was a torn ACL, completely torn on the outside and slightly on the inside. There was nothing left on the lateral side. The cartilage in the knee has been scraped away. Bickham underwent a knee operation within two weeks.

The surgery repaired the knee. But it didn’t repair everything.

“A lot of mixed emotions,” he says. “I was definitely reflecting back a lot on the things I was going to miss.”

He puts his head down and pauses to gather his emotions for a moment.

“I was sad, but I think I knew at the time I was going to be OK. I just trust in God’s plan,” Bickham says. “The best thing about it is that I have no regrets. I knew that when they carried me off the field that night.”

Before each game, it is Drew Bickham who gives a speech to the Cavaliers before they take the field. He will do it again Thursday after Calvary, the No. 5 seed in the Division IV playoffs, travels to Ventress to take on fourth-seeded Catholic-Point Coupee in the best-of-three quarterfinals.

“I really just try to cherish my time with the guys,” he says. “You’ve got to help those guys and not worry about yourself. I cheer for the guys or talk to the pitchers and try to help them out. Just to bring a little life to it.

“I really try to be the best example to the rest of the team,” he adds. “Mentally, it was really hard. And it’s still tough, especially right now because I know I could be out there.”

Eleven months ago, Calvary teammate Lane Mangum lost his life in a boating accident and Bickham says that has influenced his perspective.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he says. “The reality (of getting hurt) hits hard, but honestly, it’s helped me as a person. That was his life; this is just one year of baseball. We can fix that. For me, life is going to go on.”

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Bickham


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT:  Loyola, Webb primed for shots at state titles

WEBB GEM: Loyola’s Holden Webb will get one last shot at a state golf title.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

At 12:56 today, Loyola senior Holden Webb will tee it up for a pair of “one last chances” in the Division III state golf championships.

For Webb, it’s one more chance for the individual crown.

For Webb and his teammates, it’s a chance to get past a roadblock that has kept them from winning the school’s first state team title since 2012.

In both 2019 and 2021 (there was no tournament in 2020), the Flyers finished in second place to Ascension Episcopal (Lafayette). Although Eli Ortego, the state’s No. 1 player, is now at UL-Lafayette, Ascension Episcopal is back again to try to win another title.

But the Flyers have a player in five of the six top groups that will tee off today at Cane Row Golf Club in New Iberia. No other team has that many at the top of the pairings sheet.

“I think we can do it,” Webb said. “We’ve kind of been stuck by the team in Lafayette the last couple of years. But I think if we can execute (because) it’s all about showing up on game day.”

For Webb, who has signed to play collegiate golf at LSU, it would be the crowning achievement to his outstanding high school career.

He was the co-medalist at the regional event last week at Stonebridge as the Flyers staged a dominating performance. Loyola had a 294 total score as Webb and Charlie Bell each shot an even-par 72 and were joined by Jack Gilmer (74), Ross Alford (76) and Connor Cassano (77) as Loyola won by 22 strokes. Loyola won the district tournament two weeks ago by 61 shots.

“It’s special,” Webb said of this year’s team. “We’ve got a lot of good players this year and we’ve been practicing harder than in past years. I think we are going to have a really good shot this year. This is what I came here as a freshman to do.”

Webb didn’t waste any time in making an impact on the Flyer golf team. He finished second in the state tournament as a freshman. After no tournament was played the following year, he placed fifth at state in his junior season.

“I’ve just tried to improve every day,” he said. “Just grind it out, no matter what. The goal is to keep improving every day. I just try to put in the work and hope it pays off in the end.”

The son of former LSU golfer Craig Webb, he said there are areas of improvement he’d like to make before starting his college career.

“I feel like I’ve struggled a little bit with my ball striking off the tee, so I want to try to nail that down to where I’m hitting the ball where I want to,” he said. “But I generally feel pretty confident with my putting.”

Which means practice, practice and then a little more practice. “On a typical school day, we get out early so I can go hit a little bit and then go play, whether that’s nine holes or 18 holes,” Webb said. “On shorter days when I don’t get there until 3:15, I just do work on the range with chipping and putting.”

Though high school and college golf have a team aspect to it, ultimately it is an individual sport. That was the appeal to Webb when he ended his youth soccer career to concentrate on golf.

“My favorite thing I like about golf – and the reason I started playing – is that there is nobody else,” he said. “There’s are no highs like there are in golf and there are no lows like there are in golf. It’s all up to you.”

Photo by GRAHAM TRAWICK


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT:  Draft is thrill of a lifetime, but it’s only a start

LIFE ALTERING:  Loyola graduate Jon Alston, shown playing for Stanford,  found the NFL Draft is much like life, requiring the ability to adjust and develop.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

In his freshman religion class in high school at Loyola, Jon Alston had to write down his highest hopes for his life’s career. He wrote “NFL player” as his goal.

Nine years later, he was sitting at his grandmother’s house on Olive Street in Shreveport when that goal came true — he was chosen in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the then-St. Louis Rams.

“It’s such a big moment, not only for yourself but for your family who has watched you grow up playing football since you were a kid,” Alston says. “And now you have a life-changing opportunity. So you can’t really celebrate it by yourself. It’s good if it works out like you planned. Not so good if it doesn’t.”

In 2006, the draft was held over two days – three rounds on the first day and four on the second. The anticipation of waiting through the first day was tough enough for Alston, so he’s thankful he got picked before the first day was finished.

“You’re just sitting there and as they go by (with each pick), you have no idea where you are going,” he says. “That anticipation is tense. I knew I was going to be drafted, so I wasn’t really stressing on that, but I definitely didn’t want to wait around for that second day with all those people there.”

After an outstanding career at Stanford as a defensive end/linebacker – he had 10 quarterback sacks as a junior – Alston hit all of the usual post-college stops to prepare for the draft: East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl. NFL Combine. Then came the visits to meet with different clubs.

“I remember being on a plane a lot as soon as my senior season ended,” he says.

The Rams had met with him at the combine, but he wasn’t expecting St. Louis to take him.

“When I got called by the Rams, I remember thinking that was one of the last places I thought I’d go,” Alston says. “They told me ‘(head coach) Scott Linehan wants to talk to you’ and I didn’t even know who he was. I was like ‘Scott who?’”

“To be truthful, I really wanted to go in the second round to the (Oakland) Raiders,” he says. “But they took a better player – Thomas Howard.”

After spending a year with the Rams, Alston would play for the Raiders for three years and then a year with Tampa Bay before a series of concussions put an end to his career.

More than 15 years later, Alston has a different perspective of the draft.

“The draft is just a measurement of perceived potential.” he says. “That’s all it is. I don’t think a player should put any pressure on what happens in the draft. Have a five-year plan on what you want to be and how you want to get there. You don’t get to pick where you are going and that place might not be the right fit for you. You’re expected to succeed, but you don’t know what kind of politics within the team might be working against you that you don’t even know about.”

Alston was a three-year starter at Loyola and played just about everywhere for the Flyers – safety, linebacker, offensive tackle and running back, where he held the school record for rushing yards in a game (303) for 16 years. He was chosen as an All-State linebacker after 286 tackles in his junior and senior years.

The NFL Draft, he says, “is a lot like life. Getting in the right environment has a lot to do with your trajectory and how well you develop.”

Alston has certainly developed into a new career. He lives in Los Angeles and is an acclaimed writer, director and producer. His award-winning films include “Augustus” and “Red Butterfly.”

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to shift gears to another career that is also very competitive,” he says. “But my back story in sports really helps me stand out. Not a lot of people can transition from a lucrative, high-level occupation to the next.”


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

Football spring training has sprung (maybe a leak)

They used to say there are only two seasons in the South – football and spring football – but if that’s the case, one of those is a season of rampant speculation, endless message board postings and over analysis of player development.

Come to think of it … both seasons are actually like that.

Most college spring trainings have come and gone and most high school spring trainings are about to begin. Both are necessary, at least to some degree. But spring games? Not so much.

For college football, the 15 days of practice are probably more important than ever with the influx of early enrolling high school seniors and transfer portal pickups. Gone are the days when you just went back out there three months after the season was over with everybody who didn’t have “Sr.” written by their name in the program.

The problem isn’t the 15 days of practice; it’s the 1 day of game.

Granted, it does provide excitement for the fans, who haven’t had much to cheer about since a bowl game named for a fruit or a concept. Recruiting season fills the void for about 20 minutes, but fans love to turn these three spring game hours into an entire summer of speculation as to who might start at deep snapper.

To make matters worse, some coaches insist on these goofy five-points-for-solo-tackle spring games in which the offense “plays” the defense. There is no one worse at this than new LSU coach Brian Kelly, who has brought an idea that never caught on at Notre Dame down to LSU.

Apparently, the LSU offense covered the spread against the defense by winning 59-31 in a game so riveting that they ended it midway through the fourth quarter.

Here is the list of things you need to know about a spring game:

  1. Did anyone get hurt?
  2. See above.

Don’t try to read anything into a spring game. If a running back has a good quarter, it doesn’t mean he’s ready to start. Perhaps he stunk in all 15 practices, which is much more important in coaches’ evaluations.

As for high school spring training, there has been a movement that last few years to eliminate it. It wouldn’t be the worst idea except for this – it might be better to find out who really wants to play in the spring than having them go through the entire summer and then after the third August practice, he decides he’d rather be playing Fortnite. It’s better for him and better for the team to find that out in May.

High school spring training has been stripped down to almost nothing anyway. It’s not like anybody needs time to install the Houston Veer. Most offensive development can be done with 7-on-7 games these days; not a whole lot of bull-in-the-ring drills are being run.

Like Blockbuster, spring training could go away and nobody would miss it. Except the guy who wants to post his thoughts on the four-deep depth chart.


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT: High school baseball fields continue to undergo dramatic changes

 FLYER SHOWPLACE:  Cicero Field is home to Loyola College Prep baseball and is light years better than the Flyers’ one-time home at Betty Virginia Park, and other venues.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

If you wanted to know what is the biggest change in high school baseball in the last two generations, it’s not hard to find.

No, it’s not constant checking of the wristbands for the signals, or the parents shooting phone video footage through the net every time their son comes to the plate, or the seven sets of uniforms each team seems to have. (Those would all be good guesses, by the way).

Pitchers still throw in the 80s, no ground ball is routine and half the season is played in bitter cold and then the weather gets bad.

Those things may not have changed, but the fields they are played on sure have.

Dramatically.

Almost every local high school baseball program has upgraded its facilities to almost unrecognizable levels in the course of the last dozen years or so. How much depends on which schools you are talking about but consider this – most Shreveport schools didn’t even play on a field with an outfield fence a couple of decades ago.

There are many examples of how far things have come, but let’s start with these:

  • Byrd and Loyola (Jesuit at the time) used to share the same field at Betty Virginia Park, a city-owned facility. They got around to cutting the grass every once in a while. A shot to deep center might interrupt a picnic. If a ball down the left field line went into the concrete ditch, it was a ground rule double. From there, Byrd went on to play at games at Broadmoor Middle School, where a ball could easily get lost in the clover. Loyola played its home games at SPAR Stadium, Little League and Centenary. Now, both have facilities that rival any others.
  • If you go by Captain Shreve’s baseball field, you will see a backstop off to the left of the entrance. Hard to believe when you see what the Gators have now, but that is where home plate once was. Just a backstop. No fence. With the prevailing wind, outfielders had to play so deep that a routine single often would turn into a double. Shreve still uses that old field for infield practice, but there might be merit to getting an historic marker put up there.

“And don’t forget that most of these places didn’t have lights, so you had to play games at 3 o’clock,” says Airline coach Toby Todd. “I started at Woodlawn in 1988 and we would have to go play Byrd wherever they could play. We played them at Cargill with an all-dirt infield.”

Here’s one that will stun you if you just woke up from a 30-year nap: Airline has done a number of improvements over the years, but recently did an upgrade to the entrance way, restrooms, concessions, press box and premium seating that cost almost a million dollars. You read that correctly.

Yes, part of the improvement can be filed under “keeping up with the Joneses,” but Todd has a theory on how and why this has taken place. “When Skip Bertman came to LSU, he made baseball relevant in this state,” says Todd, who has won more than 400 games in his coaching career. “It was no longer the assistant football coach who lost the flip. At Airline, coach (Clay) Bohanan was the first true baseball man and he made Airline baseball relevant.”

Years ago, Haughton had a cesspool in deep center field, which didn’t remind anybody of Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.

“Before we built the new outfield wall, there used to be a tree out in left field,” says Haughton’s Glenn Maynor, who has been the coach for the Bucs since 1995. “Then we cut it down but there was still a stump. We used to have to go over it in the ground rules (before the game). And that wasn’t unusual. You had stuff like that at all kinds of fields.”

“When I first got here, we put up a half-cinder block backstop and poles and a net instead of a chain-link fence,” Shreve’s Todd Sharp says. “Now everybody has that. And I’ve replaced the net three times since then. But there’s always improvements being made. We used to mow the field with a John Deere tractor. Now we use a reel mower and can stripe the field.”

Part of the progress has taken away a little of the quirkiness that some fields had. Both Parkway and Benton have built new schools and have new baseball fields to go with them. They each moved away from an old facility that was both cramped – and different – from everyone else’s. Parkway had a gigantic left field fence that was 250 feet from home plate. A home run to right field at Benton didn’t have to travel much farther, but retrieve the round-trippers at your own risk — be careful of the horse dung beyond the fence.

Former coach Ronnie Coker began his career at Parkway (he went on to coach at Byrd and Shreve) and has seen the transformation first-hand. “More schools are making it a priority,” Coker says. “Which is fantastic for the kids because the kids win. If somebody else is doing something with their field, you want to do it too.”

It doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right amount of fundraising and volunteer sweat equity, things can happen. And there is ego involved as well.

“You don’t want to be the team,” Maynor says, “that has the worst field in the district.”


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT:  Haughton’s Stovall has come a long way in a short time

IF AT FIRST: A former shortstop, Peyton Stovall has a new position and a new glove. ‘I didn’t have a first baseman’s mitt.’

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

It’s a long way from Haughton to Fayetteville, Ark. It’s a long way from District 1-5A to the top of Division I college baseball. And though it’s only about 120 feet from shortstop to first base, that may have been the toughest trip Peyton Stovall has made in the past year.

A year ago, he was perhaps the most feared hitter in Louisiana high school baseball. But instead of making the trip to the Major League Baseball draft – he was a certain early-round pick – he made the trip to college baseball.

That’s worked out quite well, by the way. The former Haughton star is a freshman starter on the No. 4 team in the country which, as you might imagine, can be pretty awesome stuff when you stand around and think about it.

Which he did, by the way.

“I did that my first couple of weeks,” he says. “But playing Mississippi State and LSU, you have to forget about looking out at the crowd. You have to stay between your own ears. Just play the game you’ve always played. Buy yeah, I remember looking around at the ballpark I’m playing in and thinking ‘This is insane’ with the number of people who show up. It’s a dream come true for sure.”

There have been lots of adjustments to make, but none bigger than moving from shortstop in high school to first base in college. “I didn’t have a first baseman’s mitt,” he says. “I’d never played it before.”

But the transition wasn’t as tough as he thought, even though he gained an appreciation for his new position.

“I know now that first base isn’t as easy as I thought it was,” he says. “But after playing there a couple of months in the fall and in the spring, it started becoming comfortable. After that, I feel like I’ve played it my whole life.”

As you might expect for a freshman playing at the highest level of college baseball, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster for Stovall.

He is batting .254 with three home runs and 14 RBI. He has started 31 of the games played by the 30-7 Razorbacks, who will take on Texas A&M this weekend in a three-game series in College Station.

At the beginning of March, he had an 11-game hitting streak in which he went 18-for-42 (.426). But he has hit only .172 in SEC play, though he has started all 15 games.

“At this level it’s tough,” Stovall says. “I started out slow and then for a while, I really had it going. It’s a challenge. It’s a grind. I was swinging it pretty well and then SEC play started. I just try to grind out each at bat. Getting better each game is a goal of mine and hopefully I can continue to do that.”

Stovall says he quickly realized the difference in pitching when SEC play rolled around.

“Definitely the depth of pitching and guys throwing harder,” he says. “They are able to locate better with all their pitches. Most pitchers can locate their fastball, but SEC guys can locate more than two pitches. If something isn’t working, they can throw something else. You have to let your hand-eye coordination and instincts take over. Just react. That’s something I’m still trying to get better at.”

Right now, Stovall says his focus is on the team and what the Razorbacks are trying to accomplish. When he arrived at Arkansas, his goal was simple and has remained the same.

“My number one goal is just to put the team in the best position to win, no matter what my role is,” he says. “I just want to give it my all, no matter how much I play. I knew if I did get my opportunity, to just give it 100 percent and don’t have any regrets. I can say I’ve done that so far. “

Photo courtesy Arkansas Razorbacks


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

Parting is such sweet, insincere sorrow

Among the many things I’m tired of reading and hearing about are these “goodbye” messages from college athletes when they are about to abandon leave one school and head for another.

First of all, it’s not like they are the ones carefully crafting every single word and then working on their Photoshop skills to put together this disingenuous heartfelt, BS-filled tear-jerking Instagram post to all of their fans. (There’s a cottage industry I should have gotten into – creating and designing transfer portal graphics. With the new freedom of movement, I’d never be out of work.)

Secondly, these posts are all basically the same. Here’s some news for you Mr. Wide Receiver who is leaving State U. – you’re not exactly breaking new ground here with your epistle. And no one is going to confuse you with Maya Angelou.

And most importantly, it’s not going to make any of the jilted fans feel any better. By the time they read what you didn’t write, they’ve already put you in their rearview mirror. See ya.

But let’s get out the ol’ Excrement Detector and translate what these players are really saying without actually saying it. What follows is a compilation of a few of these transfer messages that seem to hit the social media car wash with increasing regularity.

***

To the (school) family – [you can stop right there; they aren’t your “family” anymore. You are basically running away from home.]

I want to start off by saying that I really do appreciate the opportunity that I had to come develop myself academically and athletically. [Really? Doesn’t sound like it to us.] My time as a (school nickname) has come to an end [It’s come to an end because you’re quitting]. I would like to start a new chapter in my life and explore my options to continue my career as a student-athlete elsewhere. [How about exploring your options of sucking it up?]

I would like to thank God for giving me the opportunity to play the game I love. For the past two years, the (school nickname) family has been amazing. [Here we go with the “family” again.] Your love and support have earned a special place in my heart. [But not enough to get me to stay.]

To my teammates, you pushed me every day to be a better player and we became brothers throughout that journey. Going into battle with you weekly has given me memories I will always cherish. [Until I get to a new school and then I won’t remember any of your names.]

I want to thank Coach and the entire coaching staff. I am forever grateful for the opportunity and support to represent this university. [And then leave it because I think I’m better than I really am.]

(School nickname) Nation, thank you for allowing me to be a student-athlete at this prestigious institution. [Leaving out the part about how you don’t even know where the library is at the “prestigious institution.”]  Thank you to every teammate and coach these last three seasons. We won several games together and made memories that I will cherish forever. [If we had won more, I’d probably stay.] Special thanks to my family and friends for your support. [And those who never tell me no.] At this time, I would like to announce that I have decided to enter the transfer portal to continue my academic and athletic career. [So you’re transferring to search for a better biology department?]

Thank you again, (jilted school). I will miss you. [Until the U-Haul hits the interstate.] 


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT: Former Captains lament FGF demise

FOREVER YOUNG IN FGF MEMORIES: Captains favorites (l-r) Brian Ohnoutka, Greg Litton and Romy Cucjen treasure their days at Fair Grounds Field, and in Shreveport.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

In 2010, the Class 1A state baseball championships were hosted at Fair Grounds Field. St. Mary’s (Natchitoches) was playing, and as the Tigers pitcher was beginning to warm up in the bullpen behind the left field fence, the pitching coach was stunned at what he saw. And smelled.

“The stench was amazing,” the coach says. “It was like I was in a sewer while I was trying to get my pitcher ready to go. It was embarrassing.”

But what you need to know is that the St. Mary’s pitching coach had a different perspective than anybody else at Fair Grounds Field that day. You see, he was also the same person who was the starting pitcher in the second game ever played at Fair Grounds Field.

“It was so disappointing,” says Brian Ohnoutka today. “We all had so much pride in that stadium. All I could tell my pitchers was ‘One day, this stadium used to be great.’ That hit me hard.”

It’s been a long time since they were playing minor league baseball at Fair Grounds Field, but those who did still remember it well. Whether they went on to play in the major leagues or simply finished as a career minor leaguer, Shreveport and Fair Grounds Field had an impact on them.

And they had an impact on Shreveport as well. Perhaps there is no greater illustration of that impact than seeing the old pictures and hearing the old stories about how these players – mostly in their late 50s now – became “favorites” among local baseball fans.

Greg Litton was working in Pensacola when Shreveport’s independent league team was playing in town in the early 2000s. He was introduced to one of the players before the game. “Greg Litton!” the player said. “You were my favorite player when I was 10 years old!”

The impending destruction of Fair Grounds Field has brought about a sense of nostalgia from those fans, and the same feeling from those who played for the Class 2A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

“Really? That’s so sad,” says former Captain Romy Cucjen upon getting the news. “I’m becoming emotional just thinking about it. It’s kind of overwhelming. It just shouldn’t be that way.”

“We were the first team through and we had the best stadium around and it was awesome,” Ohnoutka says. “The fans were great and we all had a great time. The beer garden was awesome. The pitchers would go down there and interact with the fans and they’d love it.”

“I had so much fun in Shreveport,” says Litton, an infielder who played for the Captains from 1986-88. “My memories of playing there are incredible. The people treated us so great, the fans were great … everywhere we went, people knew who we were. You almost felt like a big leaguer in the minor leagues.” 

Litton went on to have a six-year major league career. There is one part of playing at Fair Grounds Field that he doesn’t remember fondly.

“Honest to goodness, I played baseball in stadiums all over the country and without a doubt that was the hardest stadium to hit a baseball,” he says. “There’s not another that’s even close. I don’t what it was about that stadium. So when I heard (about the demolition), my first thought was ‘Thank God.’ I’m joking of course. Pitchers loved it, though.”

“I told this to people for years – I got to play in one of the best stadiums in the minor leagues,” Cucjen says. “It had to be in the top five. That place was awesome and it was something we were all proud of.”

Ohnoutka never made it to the major leagues. He was a second-round pick (30th overall) in the 1985 draft out of TCU. The Houston native was 22 years old when he arrived in Shreveport and played for the Captains in 1986, 1987 and part of 1988 before being called up to Class AAA Phoenix. In 1990, he played for the Class AAA affiliates of San Diego and California before calling it a career.

“To tear it down is probably the right thing to do,” Ohnoutka says. “You can’t do anything with it now. My point is that they should have done something to revitalize it 10 of 15 years ago. It’s a lost cause now.”

He married a Shreveport native he had met while playing for the Captains and then settled in Natchitoches, where he has been a financial consultant for 25 years. His son is currently a pitcher for Northwestern State.

“We had something special,” Ohnoutka says. “That’s all you can say. It was awesome. The management did a great job promoting it the whole year.”

Litton agrees, especially in regard to management. “I played for teams all through the minors and majors and there’s only one owner I ever knew and that’s (team president) Taylor (Moore),” Litton says. “He was always around and any little thing you needed, you knew you could talk to him.”

Litton, 57, is a mortgage broker living in Pensacola. He is also a motivational speaker and has been involved in politics in the area.

“If I was going to have to be in Double-A for that long, there’s no place I’d rather done it,” he says of Shreveport and Fair Grounds Field. “I made friends there and it really couldn’t have been a better experience and a lot of that was because of the fans. Everything was incredible.”

Cucjen came to the Captains near the end of the 1986 season and played in Shreveport in ’87 and ’88. He finished his career in Class AAA in 1990 and came back to Shreveport.

“The things you always remember are the relationships,” Cucjen says. “I met a lot of people there and playing for the Captains is what brought me to Shreveport. We raised our family there. It changed the trajectory of my life for the next 20 years.”


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

Fair Grounds Field left us a long time ago

We would finish laying out the Shreveport Journal’s Saturday edition about 10 a.m. and instead of going home, I would go in a different direction. There was something I had to see.

This was 1985-86 and I had to get a look at what was being built on the east end of the Fairgounds. Almost every Saturday, I would just drive by and sit in my car and marvel at what was being built before my eyes. Just to see the weekly progress was enough to whet my appetite. I’d stay for maybe 10-15 minutes and then head home, knowing that it was one week closer to being a reality.

And now it is 2022 and what came to be known as Fair Grounds Field will become a destruction site instead of a construction site. I’d love to say that my emotions are at the same level about this as they were more than 35 years ago — just in a different direction — but they aren’t.

I said goodbye to Fair Grounds Field a long time ago.

There are a great number of things I have experienced that I count as blessings and many of them have come from life simply putting me in the right place at the right time. The mid-1980s intersection of SPAR Stadium, Fair Grounds Field, the Shreveport Captains and sports writing is certainly one of those.

Quite by accident, I became the PA announcer at SPAR Stadium in 1983 and continued in that role for the next two years. The pay wasn’t great ($14 per night!), but I loved baseball and covering the team, plus I got free hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches.

But thanks to a bond proposal (that barely passed, by the way), $3.5 million was allocated to build Fair Grounds Field. Though I loved SPAR Stadium – my third-grade birthday party was there … I got Joe DiMaggio’s autograph there … the first seed of being a sports writer was planted there (long story) – it was time to move on.

I was a little surprised to be asked back to be the PA announcer — $35 per game! — but honored nonetheless.

In anticipation of the opening of FGF, I was sent to Arizona to cover the Captains’ spring training. The team was shaping up to be almost completely made over from ’85, but the guys who were going to come back in ’86 were aware of how big of a change was in store.

They had no idea.

Shreveport had no idea.

I will never forget standing in front of the Captains’ dugout with a few of the players when the gates opened at 5 p.m. (an hour earlier than normal) and saw fans literally running in to get a general admission or beer garden seat. The place was full in 30 minutes.

I have always said the biggest accomplishment in Shreveport baseball history wasn’t that 7,213 people showed up on April 14, 1986 for the first game at Fair Grounds. It’s that 1,527 people showed up on April 15. (The year before, the second-night crowd was 330.) That’s when I knew this was going to be the real deal.

For the next five years, I continued as the PA guy (“the shortstop, number 1, Tony Per-ez-CHI-CA!”) and had a blast.

But I came to realize that it wasn’t the stadium that made a difference. It was the people and the relationships that Fair Grounds Field brought about: Getting to know the players … sitting in the manager’s office discussing strategy … looking down into the crowd and watching the fans enjoy the night, even if they didn’t know their hats from second base.

My son got to be one of the Little Chickens as part of one of the San Diego Chicken’s routines. After games, I’d walk out of the player’s entrance and watch as little boys asked for autographs. I saw the look on faces of players leaving the manager’s office after they had just found out that their dream had come true – they were going to the big leagues.

Life took me in a different direction in the 1990s and later in the decade, it took Fair Grounds Field in one as well. In 2002, I attended a game at the now-renovated stadium after the ownership change had turned the Shreveport Captains to the Shreveport Swamp Dragons.

That wasn’t the only noticeable change. There were fans in attendance that night (sadly, the team averaged 431 fans per game that year), but the greater sense of emptiness throughout the stadium was obvious. The marriage between Shreveport and minor league baseball was over.

I should have felt nostalgic.

I should have felt sad.

I should have taken a moment to take one last look when I turned out of the parking lot that night.

Instead, I turned right.

Untended Fair Grounds Field set for demolition

 


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT:  Pilots overpowering opponents in near-perfect season

PILOT MAKES A POINT: Brad Neffendorf has had more struggles with the umpires than with opponents this season as his LSUS baseball team has been dominant. 

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

The scariest part of the 35-3 record for the LSUS baseball team is that it could … actually … possibly … be better?

The first loss came in a game in which the Pilots led 6-4 going into the final inning. The second loss was in a game LSUS led 3-2 entering the bottom of the seventh. The latest loss was a one-run defeat in which the Pilots “didn’t execute in areas that we feel like we are normally pretty efficient in,” according to head coach Brad Neffendorf. (Translation: mental mistakes.)

But before you let 38-0 enter your mind, Neffendorf is quick to add, “but it could be the other way too. We had some close games that we pulled out.”

Really?

Read More


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

Masters magic? None for me in ‘93

Sports writers look back on their careers and like to brag that they were “there at Game 7” or covered “one of the great championships of all time.”

No one says much about the clunkers. The duds. The I-would-have-been-better-off-staying-home events.

Welcome to my Masters experience.

I share a theoretical office space at the Shreveport-Bossier Journal with my boys Roy Lang III and Teddy Allen, who have been to the Masters so many times that they have voting privileges in Augusta. They could go on the banquet circuit and regale everyone with their memories of great Masters moments they have seen.

Meanwhile, I’m stuck with the memory of covering the worst Masters ever.

Fred Couples having a ball miraculously not roll back into Rae’s Creek on No. 12? I was one year late. Ben Crenshaw’s emotional second green jacket or Greg Norman’s choke job on the back nine? Just missed them, too.

The signature moment from the Masters I covered? Chip Beck laying up on the 15th hole because he wanted to make sure he came in second. Don’t you remember that riveting walk up the 18th fairway by eventual winner Bernhard Langer? I don’t, and I was there.

At least I think I was. I might have been asleep by then.

About a month earlier, Kent Heitholt, the late sports editor of the Shreveport Times, asked me which event I’d like to cover – the Final Four in New Orleans or the Masters. It wasn’t a hard choice for me since I had already covered two Final Fours. Kent loved going to Augusta, so for him to throw me that bone was pretty awesome.

So Kent went to the Final Four and was courtside when Michigan’s Chris Webber famously called a time out the Wolverines didn’t have. It’s certainly one of the Top 10 moments in Final Four history.

A week later, I’m writing about how some Australian named Brett Ogle couldn’t find a bathroom on the entire course and so he had to relieve himself behind the bushes on the 13th tee. But I did follow that up with a Pulitzer-worthy story about how Jay Don Blake — you remember him, right? — had a Playboy sponsorship on his bag.

Langer went on to win the 1993 Masters by four strokes, meaning that I got to see the most one-sided win in 10 years. Beck held on for second, which apparently is all he wanted to do anyway.

By the way, I was also there one of the years that the azaleas didn’t bloom. The one time in my life I cared about flora and I got a no-show.

But I don’t want to leave the impression that it was a miserable experience. Far from it. I remember eating Easter lunch on the second story balcony of the clubhouse. Not a lot of people can check that box.

They used to have elevated towers as a vantage point for the press, so I walked down to the one by the 11th green and 12th hole and just posted up in that perch for hours and took it all in.

I came up with a great story idea and failed to act upon it. Gene Sarazen, who was 91 years old at the time, was one of the honorary starters on Thursday morning that year, but all he did was hit a tee shot, take a right turn and head for the locker room. So why did he have a caddy? I wanted to interview that guy under the category of World’s Easiest Job.

As it turned out, within the next month that caddy had one more job than I did. The newspaper and I had a bit of a disagreement and guess who won? They were Bernhard Langer.

And I was Chip Beck.


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

SPOTLIGHT: A jewel who looks for diamonds in the rough

THE REV. SCOUT: Dave McQueen has a keen eye for baseball talent, and a big love for sharing his faith and motivating young people.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Go to a high school baseball game and there’s a good chance you will see Dave McQueen. He’s not hard to spot; he will be the guy with the Panama Jack hat, a Colorado Rockies shirt and a notepad.

And if you can’t find him, just wait. He will probably find you.

For a guy who is not a player and not a coach, Dave McQueen is perhaps the biggest institution in local high school baseball in the last 20-plus years.

He’s also the biggest cheerleader.

Technically, he is a scout for the Rockies, but if you think that’s all he does, you’d better get comfortable.

He is also a minister and a motivational speaker and he found that baseball, quite by accident, is the best way to put all of those passions together.

“My message is a message of hope,” McQueen says. “These kids need to understand that dreams do come true. We talk about being a good teammate and play with enthusiasm and having a good attitude. Just the things that it takes to go along with being a player who has the skills.”

Between games of a Saturday doubleheader? There’s McQueen speaking in the dugout to a team that’s not even from North Louisiana.

It’s what he does.

It’s who he is.

“It’s motivation,” McQueen says. “I’ve spoken to sales groups as a motivational speaker. I can get them fired up, but I can’t play for them. You just have to get them to understand what recruiters and scouts are looking for and to love the game.”

The 77-year-old McQueen is a Bossier High graduate, Class of 1963. “I wanted to be a preacher, but it just didn’t work out,” he says. “I didn’t have the grades and we really didn’t have the money for me to go to school.”

The road started as a PA announcer at Airline High baseball games and he began doing PA at other venues as well. In 1994, he was doing a tournament at Fair Grounds Field when a Florida Marlins scout put him to work as an associate scout, commonly known as a “bird dog” in the baseball business. “Since you are going to all these games anyway, let me know if you see anybody we should look at,” the scout told McQueen.

But an ownership change with the Marlins put McQueen out of work a few years later, until the Rockies came calling. “Whoever came through first (with an offer) is who I was going to sign with,” he says. “Colorado came first.”

He is now in his 20th year – this will be his last – with the Rockies and he has also rekindled his passion for the ministry. McQueen has more than 2,000 followers on social media and his story has been published in the book titled “SAY THE PRAYER, WAIT FOR THE PLAN: A Tribute to the Life and Ministry of Dave McQueen, Professional Baseball Scout” by Tammy Jones.

“I love the game; I love life,” McQueen says. “I just enjoy being out here with the kids and the fans and spreading the Lord’s word. I want these young men to know I support them and I will help them in any way that I can.”

If there’s a game to be played, McQueen will pack up his notebook and radar gun and be ready for the first pitch because it’s baseball and you never know what (or who) you might see.

“I look for a guy who loves the game,” he says. “Everybody will tell you that they do, but you can stand here and just tell when they take the field how much they love the game. The guy who is first on the field and first off and you look at him a little longer than the others. Then you look to see if he’s got the tools. When you see a guy like that, you follow him and see if he can develop.”

Watching and following is McQueen’s calling card. A few years ago, he went to watch a pitcher named Jim Miller, a junior college transfer to Louisiana-Monroe. Miller was very good in the first inning but couldn’t get out of the second. Instead of scratching Miller from his list, McQueen thought the right-hander might make a good closer.

He didn’t see ULM the rest of the year, but did go to the conference tournament where the Warhawks were playing in the loser’s bracket. McQueen stayed to watch, just to see if Miller might come in and pitch again. Sure enough, he came into a game and dominated as a closer.

The Rockies drafted Miller in the ninth round of the 2004 draft. (He made it to the major leagues in 2008 and had a five-year career.)

In the winter meetings after the 2004 draft, the general manager of the Rockies had McQueen stand up before the assembled group and spoke of how McQueen had doggedly stayed after a potential prospect.

He gets a little choked up telling the story.

“That,” McQueen says, “was my proudest moment.”

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

The night the nation met MJ at the Final Four

Less than a year out of college, I should have been barely qualified to cover the women’s bowling league, but here I was at the 1982 Final Four in New Orleans.

Such was life at the now defunct Shreveport Journal (a distant cousin to today’s Shreveport-Bossier Journal). We were a small-sized newspaper but damned sure we didn’t act like it. (Another Journal writer was in Virginia covering Louisiana Tech in the Women’s Final Four.)

In fact, the Final Four wasn’t even my first big assignment; I had already covered Dallas Cowboys training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

I was last in seniority and have no idea how I got the Final Four assignment, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I had a cousin in New Orleans who I could stay with for free. (NOBODY could squeeze financial blood out of a turnip like the dearly-departed Shreveport Journal.)

Forty years later, the ’82 Final Four may well be the event I covered and still remember the most.

Let’s start with the end and we will circle back. If you want to know where I was when North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan hit the famous shot with 16 seconds left, picture this – he basically shot it in a direct line at me. I was on baseline (front row) to the right as you looked at the TV screen. I knew it was in from the instant it left his hand.

It was a great angle to witness a part of history, but here’s what’s not so great about it – when Georgetown’s Fred Brown threw an errant pass to Carolina’s James Worthy that cost the Hoyas a chance to win the game, I had no idea what had happened. To me, it looked like Worthy made a nice play on the ball; in reality, Brown wanted the ball out of his hands and mistakenly threw it to the first person he saw which was Worthy, who was badly out of position.

One of the biggest gaffes in the history in sports and I had no idea what had happened, because of the same seat location that was ideal to track MJ’s memorable jumpshot.

For years, I have tried to find myself in every video or picture from that game and have never been able to do it. You rarely see a shot from behind Jordan, so I’ll just have to settle for being one of those blurry heads in the bottom right of the picture.

I had been to a basketball game at the Superdome before, and I knew its awkward configuration, but I remember walking out for the Friday practice session and being amazed at how many people were there. It’s kind of like the practice rounds at The Masters in terms of being something you should see.

The main storyline for the ’82 Final Four was whether UNC coach Dean Smith could finally win a championship, but a second one developed quickly. This was the start of what became “Hoya Paranoia” as Georgetown coach John Thompson began his adversarial relationship with the media. I remember Thompson, who kept his team in Biloxi during the Final Four, bringing freshman Patrick Ewing to the interview room but wouldn’t allow anyone to ask questions of him.

In the championship game, Ewing was whistled for four goaltending calls – giving Carolina their first eight points of the game – to send a message to the Tar Heels. Georgetown lost by one; would you like any of those messages back?

The other two teams at the Final Four were Louisville and Houston, who had another young player with “Akeem” written on the back of his jersey. Think about that – freshmen Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon were at the same Final Four.

When it was over, I remember being in the North Carolina locker room – another thing that’s not done anymore – and there were a bunch of reporters around Jordan. Off to the side was his warmup top. I could easily grab it, tuck it away and who would ever know? After all, they didn’t have any more games to play.

Pretty sure I would be out of jail by now had I been caught, so there’s that. Then again, I would have missed covering the next women’s bowling league play date.

 


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

Shreveport’s Cicero helping steer Final Four festivities

DIRECTING THE MADNESS: Shreveport native Jay Cicero (speaking) is a key figure in staging Final Four week in New Orleans.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Just in case you thought the Final Four is nothing more than three college basketball games, Jay Cicero would like to have a word with you.

The native Shreveporter is the CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, the organization that is charged with the day-to-day staffing of the committee that runs the Final Four to be played this weekend at Caesar’s Superdome.

“It’s everything BUT three basketball games for us,” Cicero said. “The games are actually a time for us to relax and enjoy the event. The rest of the time is putting out fires and dealing with the issues that come up.”

During an interview, Cicero got a text from the New Orleans police chief. “See?” he laughed. “I’m sure he’s not asking for tickets.”

If the chief wants tickets to the March Madness Music Festival – or any of the multitude of Final Four-related events – Cicero might be able to help. The NCAA is in charge of the actual games (two Saturday and one Monday) but Cicero and the organizing committee (also made up of Tulane and the University of New Orleans) have everything else.

And when you say “everything else,” that’s a lot more literal than you think.

The March Madness Music Festival will be held April 1-3 at Woldenberg Park, which is 16 acres of greenspace located on the riverfront just north of the Aquarium of the Americas.

There’s also one less tree at Woldenberg Park than there used to be. For now.

“A tree had to be removed because the stage is so large and it would have blocked the stage,” Cicero said.

He worked with the park managers to find a solution. Yes, it was removed; no, Cicero does not own a chainsaw. (Actually, the tree has been “temporarily removed.”)

“Stuff comes up that you wouldn’t believe,” Cicero said. “Check back at the end of the week and I’m sure there will be plenty more.”

Actually, it’s been a wild few months in preparation for the Final Four. “It’s been crazy,” Cicero said. “Dealing with the COVID restrictions that were in place that have now been lifted has been tough. It’s been up and down. Now that they have been lifted, it allows a lot more people to attend the special events.”

Finding and recruiting 3,000 volunteers has been a big part of the challenge.

“There’s a shortage of personnel for almost every facility in town,” Cicero said. “We’ve been able to arrange – and pay for – the expense of bringing in security personnel from all over the country. These facilities have to be staffed to host these everts properly. That has been one of the challenges. And the cost of getting those people is dramatically higher for transportation and housing.”

There have been community youth programs, an initiative called “Read to the Final Four,” a legacy project to renovate an historic gymnasium in Algiers, and numerous fan events to coordinate.

“Just trying to get as many locals involved as we possibly can and get them to attend these events outside of the games,” said Cicero, who will receive the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award and be inducted June 25 into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

This isn’t Cicero’s first Final Four rodeo. Since moving to New Orleans after being the Shreveport Captains assistant general manager, this will be the fourth time he has been involved with the Sports Foundation. In 1993, his organization handled all the volunteers; in 2003, it managed everything (similar to this year), and in 2012, the organization was involved, but not to this degree.

“The event has grown in 10 years and it’s more difficult (to manage) and more cumbersome,” Cicero said. “The amount of media attending has grown (about 2,000) and the NCAA has a lot more sponsors than in the past. The activations and the hospitality needs have grown significantly. That’s put an extra level of detail on the event.”

Including “temporary” tree removal.


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

Can you break a non-record? History vs. Hysteria

Not long ago, DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls had what was termed as a “record-breaking” performance in a game against Sacramento.

Now I wouldn’t know DeRozan if he walked in the door – I thought he still played for Toronto; turns out that was two teams ago – but I was intrigued because the headlines alerted me to the fact that he’d broken the record of Wilt Chamberlain.

Of course we all know of Wilt’s prolific ability to score – and he was also a pretty good basketball player (rim shot!) – so I figured this must be something pretty big. I realized it wasn’t Hank-Aaron-breaking-Babe-Ruth’s-record big, but I was prepared to be impressed by Mr. DeRozan’s accomplishment.

Turns out, he is the first player in NBA history to score 35 or more points and shoot 50 percent or better in seven consecutive games; Wilt did it in only six straight.

Wow.

As you can imagine, after picking myself up off the floor, I took a moment to let it all sink in. And what sank in was that I realized that another entry was about to be added to the file of Stuff They Tell Us Is Important That Really Isn’t.

It’s everywhere these days, mainly because everyone is trying to make everything significant when it simply is not.

Anytime you see “history was made” or “historic” or “record-breaking” you should be prepared to be (1) unimpressed and/or (2) disappointed.

A high school football team wins eight straight games for the third straight year? Historic!

A basketball player becomes the 17th player in school history to score his 1,000th career point? History-making!

We can’t just say something is “good” anymore because it has to be “GREAT!” We zipped right by the definition of “accomplishment,” because that’s what these really are.

Neil Armstrong walking on the moon was historic. Joe DiMaggio hitting in 56 straight games was record-breaking. But when you have to manufacture some confluence of criteria in order to qualify something as a record, it really isn’t.

It’s not record-breaking when we didn’t even know the record existed in the first place.

Historic is defined as “famous or important in history, or potentially so,” which probably doesn’t apply to the high school running back who scored five touchdowns.

Your team is not “making history” because it’s won six straight Homecoming games. Congrats on that, but we are going to save the historical part for something with a little more relevance.

Just remember this – Christopher Columbus got a lot of pub for what he did in 1492. I’m sure the hometown Genoa Gazette was quick to praise his “history-making performance” for allegedly discovering America. But since millions of people were already living on the business side of the Atlantic Ocean, there was actually nothing historic about it.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously defined pornography as “I know it when I see it” as the threshold test, but I’m guessing that Justice Stewart might have an even harder time sifting through what’s being thrown at us when it comes to what’s being labeled as “historic events,” especially in athletics. When it comes to these types of accomplishments, you’ll know it when you see it.

(As a quick aside, Stewart was replaced on the Supreme Court in 1981 by the first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. Now THAT’s historic.)


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

600 (and counting!) for Haughton’s Maynor

HAUGHTON HEROES: Bucs baseball coach Glenn Maynor picked up career win 600 Friday. Quite a few involved Peyton Stovall, now a starter at Arkansas.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

There have been some legendary high school baseball coaches in Caddo-Bossier history throughout the years.

For example, Dr. James C. Farrar coached at Fair Park, Northwood and Southfield and was three-time state Coach of the Year before becoming a college coach and then a major league scout.

Tommy Henry won a state-record 66 straight regular season games at Bossier on the way to appearances in the state finals in back-to-back seasons. He won 74 straight district games and five straight district titles.

Jim Wells took Loyola to two appearances in the state finals during the early 1980s before becoming the winningest coach ever at both Northwestern State and the University of Alabama.

Considering that there are six state finals appearances among them, whatever kind of “best ever” list you might draw up for local high school coaches, these three would be on it.

Haughton’s Glenn Maynor has won more games than Farrar, Henry and Wells.

Combined.

Maynor has been the winningest coach in Caddo-Bossier history for a few years now, but he got the landmark No. 600 win Friday as part of a three-game sweep over Evangel.

At age 50, Maynor plans to keep going for a while. “You can never really get to a place where you think you’ve got it all figured out,” he says. “I think I’m a better coach than I was two years ago. I may not have the energy I once did because I’m older. But when you get a big win and you are jumping up and down when it’s over, I tell people all the time that you can’t get that kind of feeling selling insurance.”

It’s a long way from Year 1 to Year 28 and Maynor is quite aware that it took a special set of circumstances for him to get started as Haughton’s head coach.

After an outstanding career at Airline in the late 1980s, Maynor went to Northwestern State. He was a left-handed pitcher for the Demons and played for Wells. After graduating, he did his student teaching at Haughton in 1994. He was hired for the next school year as an assistant for three sports, including baseball, but through a series of promotions in the Bossier Parish School System, Bucs baseball coach Gene Couvillion became an assistant principal in December.

“I was pretty much the only baseball guy at the school,” Maynor said. “Luckily I had been here the year before as a student teacher so all the kids were familiar with me.”

Even luckier was that he inherited a stacked team that won 27 straight games and finished with a 30-3 record.

“I felt like I knew the game,” Maynor says. “I played for Coach Wells at Northwestern and he was a great baseball guy. It wasn’t like I was going into it blind. From the beginning, the coaching was the least thing I was worried about; it was the managing and administrative part of it.”

Win No. 1 came on Feb. 21, 1995, on the road 8-1 against Benton. In 28 years, Maynor has had only one losing season.

“The only way you can keep doing this as long as I have and maintain a level of success is to keep growing,” he says. “You can’t ever be satisfied, because things change. When I first started, we’d run five-hour practices. First of all, couldn’t do that with today’s kids anyway and the other thing is that I’m a lot more efficient in how I run a practice than I was before.”

With the 600th in his rearview mirror, Maynor will continue to try to get the ultimate milestone – a state championship. As a Class 4A school in 1998 and 2000, Haughton reached the state semifinals. In Class 5A, they have made it as far as the quarterfinals.

“We’ve had a lot of success in the playoffs,” he says. “We just haven’t won the big one yet.”

At 13-2 this season, Haughton would certainly be considered as the District 1-5A favorite. The Bucs will open district play Tuesday at Benton, meaning Maynor will be trying to get Win No. 602 at the same place he got Win No. 1 in 1995.

“In today’s times, you wouldn’t see a 23-year-old head coach,” he says. “I was lucky to be in the right spot at the right time.”


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

For better & worse, the new MLB rulebook

There are plenty of changes coming to major league baseball and there’s no shortage of stupid ones. (Bigger bases, really?)

But unless you are one of these staunch traditionalists who think the boys should be dressed in wool uniforms, you’ll need to start accepting some of the changes as they come. Some have merit and some are dispensed with almost as soon as they are invoked. (Copying the softball extra inning rule was an insult to everyone’s intelligence.)

Stay with me here – the pitch clock is a good thing. And they oughta put a pitch clock on the pitch clock to get it implemented as soon as possible.

It’s already being used at various levels of college and minor league baseball, so it’s not going to be a shock to the system of the next generation of major leaguers.

Look, there are a lot of rule changes that either affect the fabric of the game or come way too close. I hate the shift as much as anybody, but legislating against it seems to be an affront to Abner Doubleday or whoever it is they now think invented baseball. (As it turns out, it is now believed that the only thing Abner started was the Civil War.)

Trust me on this one – you will hardly even notice the difference in a game with the pitch clock. Except that you’ll be getting home a lot sooner.

I’ve seen some Double-A games with the pitch clock and here’s what I haven’t noticed – the clock. Usually it’s tucked away on the scoreboard, where you have to be looking for it to find it, and also located behind home plate, where only the defense can see it.

Here’s what you will notice – batters staying in the batter’s box between pitches. You mean you don’t have to adjust your batting gloves after every pitch? What a novel concept!

You will also notice that if there is a sign to be given, it isn’t relayed six times among managers, coaches, the bullpen catcher and the traveling secretary. The count is 3-0 … you could just yell out “TAKE!” and no one would even notice.

Pitchers don’t walk around the mound like caged animals or ponder the merits of the resin bag after every pitch. The catcher throws it back and they get ready for the next pitch. Simple as that.

The games I’ve seen have had limits of 15/20 (15-second limit with no one on base and 20 with runners.) There’s even been talk of a 13/18 clock. If the clock runs out, the umpire decides who is at fault. If it’s the pitcher, it’s an automatic ball. If it’s the batter, automatic strike. But you’ll go weeks and never see it called.

The adjustment is immediate for the pitchers and the batters and the game certainly has a better pace to it. Next time you watch a major league game on DVR and you have one of those 30-second advance buttons, use that and see how many times the next pitch still hasn’t been thrown. Now think about how much quicker the game would be if you cut that in half. In a game with 250-300 pitches, it adds up.

If MLB wanted to get really serious about it, it could eliminate the time between innings or pitching changes very easily. Right now, it varies between 2:05 and 2:55, but they could take one of those 30-second commercial spots and play it on a split screen after an out is made. (Golf and football both do this now.) You’d still have the $$$ from the ad but it would lessen the time between half-innings.

Run the numbers – there are at least 17 half-innings in a game, multiplied by 30 seconds each. Throw in a few pitching changes and that’s 10 minutes right there.

The average length of a baseball game hasn’t been under 3:00 in 10 years (it was 3:11 in 2021). Baseball can fix its other problems later; fix this one now.

Before time runs out.


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE