By the time I showed up on the scene at Louisiana-Lafayette's Tigue Moore Field, it was only four years removed from the big game.
Every once in a while, local American Legion Third District West commander Mr. Moore himself would tell me the story.
His face just lit up with joy every time.
And if Garrett O’Connor’s name came up, Mr. Moore’s smile got even bigger.
In 1981, O’Connor threw an 11-inning no-hitter and also hit the game-winning home run to lead Mr. Cook to Lafayette’s first and only American Legion baseball state championship.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime performance that creates legends.
On Thursday at Delhomme Funeral Home in Lafayette, that game was still on the top of the minds of his former Mr. Cook teammates as they celebrated O’Connor’s life on the day of his funeral.
Born on Oct. 10, 1962, the 56-year-old Garrett Wayne O’Connor died Sunday, leaving behind a lifetime of baseball, umpiring, restaurant and Mardi Gras memories.
Anyone at the funeral home Thursday had no choice but to recognize the impact O’Connor had in this community.
“If he had doubts that he was loved, I mean this line has been two solid hours and I don’t see any end in sight right now,” said Ron Robicheaux, who played with O’Connor at Lafayette High, Mr. Cook and with the Ragin’ Cajuns.
To no one’s surprise, the game that made Mr. Moore proud for the rest of his life was relived in all its glory.
“Garrett had a great season that summer,” Robicheaux said. “He was like 19 or 20-0 that season. He was dominant. He basically carried us on the mound. I don’t know, but I think that was the only home run he ever hit. Yes, it was literally a memory of a lifetime.”
Competitive American Legion baseball on that level left Lafayette years ago, but the O’Connor heroics live on.
He was 19-1 that summer with two no-hitters. He followed that up with a college career at then-USL’s Tigue Moore Field. In 1984, O’Connor was 9-3 with a 1.79 ERA with three shutouts in what was supposed to be his senior season. Getting a fifth year of eligibility a year later, O’Connor was 8-4 with a 3.30 ERA with four complete games and two saves.
He was an All-Louisiana recipient in his last two seasons.
“He was a good pitcher,” said former Cajuns teammate and high school adversary Todd Weber. “He threw strikes. He was a guy you knew wasn’t going to walk a lot of guys.
“He was a confident person as a pitcher, really confident. You don’t get to the level he did without being confident in yourself.”
As a teammate he was known as someone who enjoyed having fun.
“Garrett liked to be the center of attention. He’d do crazy fun stuff to bring attention to himself,” Robicheaux said. “And we’d just say, ‘Aw, that’s just Garrett.’ It was all in fun.
“If you knew him, he got a pass, because you knew he was fun-loving. He liked the laugh and have a good time.”
Former Lafayette Roughnecks coach Gerald Hebert recalled a story when O’Connor's grew in the mental part of the game.
The team, made up of former professional and college players, was playing in a tournament in Tennessee and was running out of pitching.
“I told him, ‘We’re short on pitching, so I’m not going to go get you. So if you get tired or hit a little bit, don’t even look my way,’ ” Hebert said. “We needed innings out of him. He came through for us.
“The team had much stronger confidence in him after that, and I think he had more confidence in himself after that as well.”
O’Connor was drafted in the first round of the winter major league draft by the Twins, then in the ninth round by the Giants in 1984 and finally in the second round by the Yankees in 1985.
He never made it to the Major Leagues … at least not directly.
Decades later, his nephew and godson Lance Cormier did just that. Also a Mighty Lions all-stater, Cormier played collegiately at Alabama and eight years in the big leagues.
In fact, those baseball fans around for both careers had to make sure they weren’t watching O’Connor all over again once Cormier began grabbing the spotlight.
“He played a very important role in developing me as a pitcher, first off mechanically,” said Cormier, who lives outside Tuscaloosa and does broadcasting on the SEC Network. “So many people have commented to me, ‘I watch you pitch and you look identical to what he used to look like.’ Those are things he challenged me as a young player to learn, the very basics of what I had to learn.”
More than anything, O’Connor transferred to his nephew his love for the game.
“He was a huge part of my love for baseball, which turned out to shape my life as a baseball player and now as a broadcaster,” Cormier said.
Once O’Connor’s prol career ended, his love for the game was transformed into an umpiring career.
“I have some great memories of Garrett,” said Anthony Babineaux, who played for and coached the Cajuns with O’Connor umpiring. “When I was playing, it seemed like he was doing every midweek game and every weekend series.
“Garrett was a good umpire. I’ve already felt that umpires who played the game at a high level were the better umpires, because they were used to the speed of the game.”
In his memory, Babineaux was ejected once by O’Connor.
“Some felt that he tried to get a little too much into the game as an umpire, but he did his best to make sure the game was played fairly,” Babineaux said. “He was always committed to his profession.
“He allowed you to talk a little bit, but he was known to have a quick fuse. Once he had enough, he’d let you know that would be it.”
Just like in his playing days, however, O'Connor was fun to be around off the field even in his days as an umpire.
“Garrett was a great umpire, a mentor and an even better friend,” umpiring colleague Travis Hargroder said. “We had many fun weekends traveling and working baseball games with him. I’m going to miss him.”
For many, O’Connor’s life was all about baseball, but there was more. He was manager of Chris’s Po-Boys, first downtown and later on Pinhook.
For others he was one of the guys on top of a Mardi Gras float each year all dressed up with as much spirit as anyone.
“He’s a guy who would always do anything for his friends,” former high school and Legion teammate and longtime friend Gerald Broussard said. “He was the kind of guy you didn’t even need to ask him for anything, because he already offered.
“He was just one of those guys who you meet where you say, ‘Man, that was a really nice guy.’ That’s how I’m going to remember him.”