Defending champs see baseball field as a haven

The Jefferson Parish, La., team was riding a high last year when it won the Babe Ruth 14-year-old division World Series in Quincy, Mass.

Two days later, their lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina.

Now, many of those same players are in Clifton Park this week trying to become the first team to win both the 14- and 15-year-old division championships. And though their lives are still not what they once were, the players are happy to be back together.

Katrina hasn't affected our baseball team in any way, said pitcher/infielder Harold Toscano. We're not back in our houses, but baseball-wise, everything's fine. We're just back to normal."

Jefferson Parish had a lot of success last year. Not only did the 14-year-old team win the World Series, but the 15-year-old division team coached by Bill Babin also claimed the national title.

Babin's team was home from its championship run in Abbeyville when Katrina began bearing down on the Louisiana-Mississippi coastline. Meanwhile, the 14-year-old division team was making its run to the title.

"I was home pulling in all of my stuff that could blow away when the coach called me and told me they had won the 14-year-old World Series," said Babin.

As the hurricane drew closer, flights were no longer allowed to land at Louis Armstrong International Airport, which is located in Jefferson Parish. So, the 14-year-old All-Stars were diverted to Dallas, where they watched the destruction of New Orleans on TV.

"They were showing around Lake Ponchatrain, which we don't really live by," said catcher Mason Katz. "So, we really didn't think it was all that bad until we got home and realized that we couldn't go home."

Like most of the New Orleans metropolitan area, Jefferson Parish " located west of downtown New Orleans " was heavily damaged by Katrina. However, it was spared the worst of the flooding because it was located far enough away from the levees that breached along the canals in the city. That allowed its residents to begin the cleanup process earlier than those in neighboring parishes.

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