Long before Eddie Bonine put on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association hat that he now wears, he wore a baseball cap.
Drafted by the Houston Astros in 1979, Bonine spent seven seasons playing professionally, rising from rookie ball to Triple-A.
A starting pitcher, he went 49-55 on the mound and recorded six saves.
Bonine got his seventh save Friday, trotting from the bullpen in Nevada and coming to Louisiana and helping win a game that could have spiraled out of control.
It wasn’t easy.
The bases were loaded with no outs, a jam some would say was left behind by former Executive Director Kenny Henderson. But Bonine was poised as he stood on the mound, which on this day was the stage of the Crowne Plaza ballroom in Baton Rouge with hundreds of spectators watching.
His fastball or curve wouldn’t have been any good on this day.
His best pitch was his sales pitch, a 22-minute, 11-second spiel asking the 300 principals and all the coaches and administrators in attendance to give him time.
He asked for time to research all the problems the LHSAA faced, specifically the oh-so-divisive issues dealing with select and nonselect schools.
Bonine didn’t have long.
Standing in the on-deck circle was a proposal that was a few minutes away from being voted on that could likely divide the association even more.
It was a proposal by Many High School principal Norman Booker III that would expand the current split playoff format that exists in football to include baseball, basketball and soccer.
It’s uncertain how many principals had already made up their minds which way they were voting before Bonine’s speech.
What is certain is once the vote came up for the proposal to split the playoffs in the other three sports, it wasn’t close.
One-hundred, sixty-one said no and only 82 said yes.
“I think hearing him speak may have pushed the ones sitting on the fence over the edge,” John Curtis football coach J.T. Curtis said. “I think reasonable men make reasonable decisions.”
In addition to the vote, two other proposals that would have changed the current format were tabled, giving Bonine the time he wanted.
Now comes the hard part.
He must come up with a plan.
Bonine explained the first step of his plan Friday. He will appoint a committee that will address issues within his first 45 days after officially taking over his duties March 1.
“He has a lot of work to do, and I think he knows that,” Hahnville football coach Nick Saltaformaggio said. “But I believe in him.”
And that’s all Bonine wanted.
He spoke with authority, like a man ready and willing to take the lead.
He even mentioned biblical principles, telling the proper way a shepherd leads his flock. He reminded the audience that when a shepherd is walking behind his flock, the flock can go in any direction it chooses. Or it simply won’t know which way to go at all.
“But a good shepherd is in front of the flock,” Bonine said. “If he has the trust of all those individuals and goes that way or that way, they follow. I truly hope you give me the opportunity to get out in front of this.”
On Friday, he got his first opportunity, getting a save, the seventh of his career.
For that, the folks in Louisiana say thanks.
Now he gets the chance to do something he never did in his pro career: hit a home run.
Unifying the LHSAA would be a home run.
Heck, it would be a grand slam.
Batter up. Play ball, Mr. Bonine.