Notre Dame left fielder Jacques Thibodeaux recalls quite vividly his trips with his father as a youngster to watch the Houston Astros play in their ultra-modern new digs at Minute Maid Park.
Thibodeaux’s not far removed from those three-hour trips from his home in Crowley down I-10 to get an up-close look at not only the home team, but some of his favorite Major League players.
“It was really exciting to see all the pro players,” Thibodeaux said.
Several years later, Thibodeaux will go from spectator to participant in the 15-year-old Minute Maid Park when Notre Dame (15-12) takes the field to face St. Louis of Lake Charles (15-14) on Monday at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s a blessing,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s hard to describe how lucky we are and how awesome it is to get that kind of opportunity.”
For the second time in two months, a pair of teams from Louisiana will play at Minute Maid. The Astros will continue on a road trip in San Diego.
Another Acadiana area team, Teurlings Catholic, was involved in the first-such event in February, when the Rebels played against Sam Houston.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not only for coaches but kids as well,” Notre Dame baseball coach Steve Soper said. “It’s a great experience, so we jumped all in at the idea of it. When we told the kids, they were pretty excited about it, to say the least.”
Starting pitcher Joe Faulk said he’s eager to share the same mound and playing field as some of top players in professional baseball.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” Faulk said. “It’s going to be cool to be on the same field as all the pro players and looking back into the stands. It’s going to be a different atmosphere.”
Right fielder Dillan Gilbert said he’s had the opportunity to play in college stadiums at LSU, UL-Lafayette, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, but those previous experiences will pale in comparison to playing in his first professional stadium that seats 41,574.
“I’ve played in some big places before but never like this,” Gilbert said. “It’s going to be a good experience for everybody. When we heard about it everybody was pumped up. It’s going to be awesome.”
Soper said the regular-season finale for both teams will count toward their final record.
The LHSAA will release the 32-team bracket Tuesday for Class 3A, which both teams are a part of with the start of the state playoffs set to begin thereafter.
“Once you get in the game, I feel it’s going to be the same,” designated hitter Taylor Faulk said. “Before the game, it’s going to be an awesome experience.”
Notre Dame will tour the retractable-roof venue Monday at 3:30 p.m. and get the opportunity to hit in batting cages, warm up but won’t be able to take pregame infield.
If either team’s prepared to deal with Minute Maid’s dimensions, it’s Notre Dame, whose home field, Miller Stadium, once served as a minor league park.
Notre Dame’s home field is actually 10 feet farther down the lines and 15 farther in the gaps but can’t touch Minute Maid’s cavernous 436-foot sign to center.
The timing of the opportunity comes as Notre Dame has dropped its past four District 5-3A games, falling out of a tie for the league lead and finishing tied for third.
Conversely, St. Louis has won its last six games and finished as the District 4-3A runners-up to South Beauregard.
“One of the biggest things that snowballed this past week is that guys really started pressing and tried to do too much,” Soper said. “Hopefully this can be a time to get rejuvenated, come out and play in such a great venue and hopefully forget about the bad stuff and focus on the positives. Just enjoy the moment.”