With Old Glory waving in the background, a group of Ascension Parish youths and their families spent Independence Day in one of the most American locations possible: at a baseball park.
The Ascension Parish baseball team of 11-year-olds, along with six other teams from around the state, spent their Fourth of July weekend at the Stevens Park fields in Gonzales for the Louisiana Cal Ripken State Tournament, which is a branch of the national Babe Ruth League.
The orange-clad Cheetos — a squad of all-stars selected out of the seven-team Ascension Parish league — finished the weekend short of the championship game, but managed a third place finish after splitting the weekend 2-2, including wins against St. James and Denham Springs.
St. Charles would eventually take the crown and move on to the Regional Tournament in Hurley, Mississippi, after a 12-4 win against New Iberia in the championship round. Ascension lost to St. Charles 12-2 for its eliminating second loss of the weekend.
Prior to the Cheetos’ first game of the tournament, Ascension Parish coach Eric Altazan said he had only a few weeks to put together the team after the league concluded its regular season.
The Cal Ripken tournament was the third time the team played together. The team did win the district tournament before advancing to the state event.
“It’s one of the hardest things to start an all-star team,” Altazan said. “Usually you wind up with all pitchers and shortstops. … Then we have to reassign them, always.”
Altazan said he didn’t feel the home field advantage would be much of a factor, but was excited to play in Gonzales if for no other reason than an assurance of a quality diamond.
Tournament Director and Ascension Baseball Committee Secretary Trey Arnold said ABC spent more than $2,000 on various registration costs, umpire fees and renovations to the field, including a new, natural-clay pitching mound after the program decided to switch back from the artificial surface used during regular league play.
Arnold said the league is independently funded, receiving no funds through the parish.
The committee also employed the use of what Arnold describe as an “army of people” with more than 20 volunteers working the tournament on any given day.
“The first thing was trying to get the field in order.” Arnold said.
“These fields are pretty old and outside of putting the lines down, regular maintenance hasn’t been done for so long. So the league did a lot of maintenance.”
But it was only by chance Ascension would host the tournament.
ABC volunteer Dean Meaut said the tournament fell to Ascension after the original site had to drop out.
“We found out that the other city dropped out and couldn’t host, so we told (the Babe Ruth League officials) that we wanted to host it,” Meaut said.
Baseball fans will get a second chance to watch highlights from the holiday weekend tournament. Ascension Parish’s opening round match-up against St. James was selected by Eatel Channel 4 to be televised at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. July 19.
Fans will be able to see the Cheetos defeat the Zappers, 18-17, during the televised game.