They call it the Return to Rooney, a homecoming of sorts for Delgado Community College alums to come back and watch the school’s tradition-rich baseball program.
There was a time, just 10 short years ago, that it didn’t seem like there’d be a Rooney to return to.
Delgado coach Joe Scheuermann still remembers riding on the back of a deuce-and-a-half to campus that autumn day in 2005.
Hurricane Katrina had struck just 14 days earlier. It was his first time seeing the destruction.
“I thought it was over,” Scheuermann recalls. “Not only was the college under water, but the field was just destroyed.”
The water had gotten as high as 8 feet in Kirsch-Rooney Stadium.
The outfield fence was gone.
So was all the equipment.
The grass looked like it would never grow again.
“We literally had to start from scratch,” Scheuermann said. “It was quite an eye-opener.”
The 2006 season, just a few months away, seemed like a long shot.
An October team meeting held a few miles away at Archbishop Rummel High School gave Scheuermann some hope.
“We could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it was a dim light,” he said. “But everybody pitched in and got it done.”
The season went on as scheduled.
Delgado was the first college baseball team in New Orleans to play a home game after the storm.
That 2006 team, which advanced to the district finals that year, will be recognized Saturday before Delgado’s series opener against Baton Rouge Commuity College. It’s the first game of a seven-game series spanning three weekends between the schools.
The series winner will host the South District Tournament, which includes the winners from Missouri and Oklahoma. The winner of that advances to the Division I JUCO World Series.
“We just have to play baseball,” Scheuermann said. The fact that (it) is so important for both programs, everyone will escalate their game a little bit. We need to play our game of baseball and hopefully it will be enough to win.”
Delgado (26-11) comes into the series ranked No. 17 in the country and has now been ranked in 31 consecutive national rankings going back to 2013.
Not bad for a team that graduated 15 sophomores off last year’s team.
“We’ve had some good days and some not-so-good days,” said Scheuermann, in his 25th season. “But the last 2-3 weeks we have played well. It takes that long for guys to know each other and to grow up. They have to learn each other’s names before they learn to play well with each other.”
But just like in years past, that has never seemed to be a problem for the Dolphins. They have won nine of the last ten conference titles, made nine trips to the NJCAA Super Regional and earned three South Central District Championships.
The Dolphins made it to the Junior College World Series the past two seasons.
If they get back this season, they will rely on the arms of Evan Hileman, Jace Nini, Laine Fontenot and Christian Latino and the bats of guys like Daniel Lahare and Owen McGee and the defense of steady catcher Spencer Miller.
“Everybody has talked enough about it all year,” Scheuermann said. “So they know how important this series is and what it takes to advance.”
Advance, and the program that seemed like it was about to be wiped out a decade ago will get to return in May to a stadium that also seemed to have been wiped away.
“That ’06 team is the one that really held this program together,” Scheuermann said. “They could have folded the tent, but they helped build the program back. We owe a lot to them.”