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Baseball: Back for Opening Day

Back for Opening Day

Dan McDonald

It is the most hallowed holy day for the followers of the church of baseball.

It is a symbol of rebirth, a return to youth, a simultaneous celebration of times past and anticipation of times still to come.

Other sports start their seasons. Baseball has Opening Day.

"It’s special," said Jim Maraist. "It’s the start of a lot of pleasure, something I’ve been looking forward to for the past couple of months."

The University of Louisiana opens its 2005 baseball season tonight, facing long-time rival Louisiana Tech at 6:30 p.m. at M. L. "Tigue" Moore Field in the first of a three-game series.

For Maraist and several of his friends, the start of baseball continues a tradition … a gathering that began many years ago on the top row of Moore Field, back when Ragin’ Cajun baseball crowds numbered only in the dozens.

"We were hardened baseball fans," said Joseph Handy. "A lot of us went to and supported other sports programs, but for me baseball was special because I’d played it all my life."

So did Bob Fournet, who still remembers fondly the days of the old Evangeline League when virtually every town in Acadiana had a minor-league baseball team. It was those memories – and a key family connection – that attracted him and others to the university’s baseball team.

"I was watching them when they played on campus, where the architecture building is now," said Fournet. "You can pretty much say my blood runs red and white."

It was that kind of passion that kept them coming, game after game, Opening Day after Opening Day, year after year. They would sit on the top row of Moore Field, 18 seats across, and watch.

They named themselves "The Dirty Dozen and a Half" in honor of the 18 spots on the original metal bleachers. Many would bring sawed-off lawn chairs to make the benches more comfortable.

It was Fournet who came up with the idea of putting chairs on that top row.

"We all bought into those seats," he said. "All 18 of us were interested, and Tony (head coach Tony Robichaux) helped us get those nice seats."

"I asked Bob how much I owed him," Handy said, "and he said don’t worry about it the first year."

Now, all of Moore Field’s main grandstand area is seats with backs, but that top row of 18 seats remains different. They’re reserved, already spoken for – have been for more than two decades now.

"The crowd’s dwindled down a little now," said Maraist, a retired Air Force pilot who doesn’t hesitate at calling out fans who don’t doff their caps during the National Anthem. "But a lot of us are still there every game. Cliff (Broussard) sometimes brings some friends, T.C. (Wiggins) is there, Joe, Bob …"

Many attend other Cajun events, but the pace of baseball allows them the chance to talk to their friends, catch up on each other’s lives and revel when the UL team records the third out in the seventh inning. That’s when the public address blares out John Fogerty’s "Centerfield," and the "Dirty Dozen and a Half" on hand leap to their feet to clap and sing along.

"You just know everybody," said Wiggins, who literally grew up next to the campus. "When I was young, my mother had a boarding house and a restaurant next to the campus before there was a student union, so we knew everybody on campus. It’s kind of like that at the baseball games.

"A lot of that is because of coach Robichaux and the way he handles his players. You can tell they want to win, but they do it the right way. They treat everybody right, and they go to school. It makes everyone want to support them more."

The land where Moore Field – and the entire UL athletic complex – sits was originally the back 40 acres of the Fournet family’s dairy farm. The park opened in 1978 and honors M. L. "Tigue" Moore, who was Acadiana’s "Mr. Baseball" for decades. Moore died three days before Opening Day 1994.

The park has had several improvements since that time, but it’s those 18 chairs on that top row that remain the most memorable for that group, along with the work done when UL hosted the NCAA Regionals in 2000.

"We got a lot done in two weeks," Fournet said.

Several of their group also made the pilgrimage to Omaha, Neb., and college baseball’s most holy shrine, the College World Series, when the Cajuns earned its first-ever berth in the national tournament in 2000.

"I remember when I got there and walked up into the stadium – I looked at the field and just froze," Handy said. "It was like I caught the chills. I stood there for I don’t know how long. I wanted to go out there and run the bases, like I was a kid again."

Maybe that’s the whole idea, and why they’ll be back today for Opening Day … the opportunity to recapture youth, at least vicariously, through the young men that will start a new season of pitching, hitting and fielding tonight.

"It’s fun to watch them," Maraist said. "They give their utmost just for the fun of the game."

The original "Dirty Dozen and a Half"

Lyle Mellington

Pete Loftin

A. H. "Happy" Bryan (deceased)

Willianna Curley-James

Carolyn Bienvenu

Ronald Bienvenu

Roy Babb

Arthur Broussard

Bob Fournet (2 seats)

Francis Babin (2 seats)

Cliff Broussard

Bob Guynn

Barbara Guynn (deceased)

Jim Maraist

T. C. Wiggins

Joseph Handy

What’s hot at M. L. "Tigue" Moore Field

Single-game ticket prices:

$12 for chairback seats

$8 for grandstand bleachers

$5 for escort tickets (must be accompanied by UL student with ID)

Basic concession prices:

Hot dogs $2.50

Nachos $3.50

Popcorn $2, $3

Soft Drinks $1.50, $2.25, $3.25

Beer $3.50, $5, $9 (pitcher)

Mr. Vic’s peanuts $2

Parking: Free

Opening Day 2005:

University of Louisiana vs. Louisiana Tech, 6:30 p.m. today at M. L. "Tigue" Moore Field

Originally published February 11, 2005