“Hey Mr. Casey, watch this,” said a familiar voice to my right.

It was Saturday afternoon and I was standing on the infield dirt of Eddie Blanchard Field — making my way from the outfield where I had just interviewed the victorious Tarpons’ players and coaches after their big win.

The voice reaching out to me was Hobie Angelette. I’ve known Hobie his whole life. There is no bigger Tarpons’ fan. There is no bigger baseball fan.

With my eyes turned to Hobie, he smiled from ear-to-ear as he tossed a baseball in the air, then smacked it with a bat, sending the ball sailing into right field.

It landed in the middle of the outfield grass, then rolled to near the base of the fence.

“What a shot,” I told Hobie. “You crushed it.”

He smiled, then asked me about the game we had both seen. South Lafourche had just beaten Breaux Bridge 7-5 to advance in the Class 4A Playoffs. The game was a thriller. Hobie said it was “awesome.” I couldn’t disagree.

After a little small talk, I went on toward the Tarpons’ dugout to head home.

“Hey Mr. Casey,” Hobie asked one more time.

“What’s up, buddy?” I asked — now at the entrance to the dugout.

“Will you be going to Tioga?” he asked.

When I nodded my head to say yes, his smile grew wide and bright. To Hobie, South Lafourche baseball is a huge part of life. His brother Bucky is an assistant coach with the team, and Hobie goes to as many games as he can. The ones he can’t attend, he listens to at home. Hobie loves the players, and they love him back. When the Tarpons raise their flag in victory, the players have invited him into the celebration to raise the flag.

To him, it means the world.

A large piece in the puzzle which is our community.

On my way out of the dugout and in the parking lot, I met several fans clad in their best blue and white attire.

Inquiring minds asked about the game or about the upcoming series with Tioga.

“I’m so proud of these boys,” one parent said.

“I already have my hotel reservations made,” another added. “I’ve had them made for a month.”

Each person had their own stance on things. Each also represented their own piece in the puzzle.

When I got home that afternoon, I put pen to paper and started thinking about the day and reflecting— about Hobie, about those parents and about all of the other things I’d witnessed in that day.

Something felt different, but I couldn’t put a finger on it, so I went on a deep dive to try and figure out why.

I thought about Mr. Larry Pitre who was at that game. I thought about how many thousands of games he’s attended and the things he’s seen. Mr. Larry goes to pretty much every South Lafourche game for every sport, and he has the entirety of my life and beyond. The man has seen literally thousands of games.

I thought about Mrs. Beverley Cheramie and the thousands of pounds of desserts she’s baked and made for student-athletes and fans in her lifetime. I thought about the 1971 South Lafourche baseball team that was honored on Friday — the men who literally built the field the games were played on this past weekend.

I thought about all of the familiar faces I see at games — some of whom I don’t even know their names. But just by seeing the face, I know that when I see them randomly in public, I can bring up the Tarpons and get a little chatter.

I thought about the young men on this year's team – kids who have had to be full-time students in this most awkward time in the world. I thought about their resiliency and ability to persevere. I thought about their classmates who turned out by the dozens and were a huge part in helping the team win with their energy and presence.

I thought about the 2020 seniors who would give anything to be part of this ride, but who never got the chance.

They, too, are all pieces to that large, imaginary puzzle.

After about 2-3 hours of doing this, it hit me why this weekend was such a special one.

It was the first time in more than a year that the entire puzzle was able to be reconnected again and made whole.

The South Lafourche baseball season has been the first true piece of full, complete normalcy we’ve had in the past 14 or so months of a beyond crazy world.

Our area has been swept up by COVID, has been battered by hurricanes, has been squeezed by the grip of anxiety from beyond-ridiculous legislation/suppression on the oil and gas industry — all in the span of about a year.

Because of crowd restrictions, we’ve not often been able to get together. And when we have had gatherings, unfortunately, they’ve often been for the wrong reasons such as funerals or other events that have become symbolic of a rough year.

But on Saturday, we were separated no more, At last, we were together again. We didn’t have to be worried about tomorrow so much, because we were engulfed in the joy of the day. For the first time in 14 months, there was nothing to worry about. There was today to celebrate. And celebrate, many did.

Where it goes from here, who knows?

Are the Tarpons capable of beating Tioga? Sure.

Is Tioga capable of beating the Tarpons? You bet.

But the result of that series doesn’t change the importance of the ride.

This baseball team has given some much-needed healing and stress relief to a group of people who desperately needed it.

It was a ride we needed at the time we needed it most.

It’s a ride we will never soon forget.

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