Coach Sam Abney and former players Keane Poche, Will Harris and Xavier Paul were honored by having their jerseys retired during the third annual Slidell High Alumni Baseball weekend on Jan. 13.
“It’s about honoring the people who came before you,” current Slidell High baseball coach Vincent Ruda said. “For these kids, they can look at players like Will and Xavier who made it to the big leagues and got their start just like they did.
"They can also learn about the legacy a player like Keane Poche left not only on this program, but the entire city of Slidell. Then, of course, you have a coach like Sam Abney, who really laid the groundwork to put Slidell High baseball on the map.”
Poche, who played at Slidell from 1992-95, was one of the area's top left-handed pitchers. He played at UNO for a season before dying in a car crash in May 1996.
Poche was a reliever for the Privateers. He had a 4-0 record, 4.33 ERA and tied for the Sun Belt Conference lead in saves with six. In 25 appearances, Poche pitched 35.3 innings.
Poche’s father, Gene, who was accompanied by his wife, Deborah, wished his son could have participated in the ceremony.
“Days like today are a mixture of emotions for me,” Gene Poche said. “It’s a happy day because we are honoring Keane, but it also a sad day because he is not here. I think about him every single day, and I’m sure he would have loved a day like this and just being out at the ballpark.”
After spending his first two years at Rummel, Xavier Paul returned home to Slidell High for his junior and senior seasons (2002-03). In 2003, he was selected to Baseball America's second-team High School All-American team after batting .391 with nine homers, 17 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. He then hit .444 for Team USA at the 2003 Pan American Games. He was named Louisiana's Mr. Baseball in 2003.
Paul was drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers and saw time with the Dodgers (2009-11), Pittsburgh Pirates (2011), Cincinnati Reds (2012-13) and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014.
“I just remember how competitive our teams were while I was here,” Paul said of his time at Slidell. “Many of the guys that I played with at Slidell High I had been friends with back to our days at SBBA (Slidell Bantam Baseball Association). It’s just great to be able to come back and talk and hang out with everybody and catch up.”
A reliever on the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros, Harris played at Slidell from 1999 to 2002 before moving on to LSU, helping the Tigers to a Southeastern Conference Championship and two trips to the College World Series.
Harris was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2006 and later was part of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics before signing with the Astros in 2014.
Harris made the All-Star team for the first time in 2016, and a year later was an important part of a bullpen that helped Houston capture the franchise’s first World Series.
“Growing up I never thought about playing college baseball or making it to the majors,” Harris said. “When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was be able to play baseball at Slidell High. I wanted to wear green and white and get the cool batting gloves. I wanted to win district and state championships at Slidell High. That was everything to us.”
Abney, who coached the Tigers from 1987 to 2008, compiled a record of 357-110.