Defending champs see baseball field as a haven

"Jefferson Parish was the first one that was hit that was really back up and running," said Babin. "So most of the people were able to get into their homes, get FEMA trailers and put them in their front yards or live on the upstairs while they were trying to get their downstairs redone."

Still, the rebuilding process has been slow. Toscano and his family have yet to move back into their home because the inside has to be rebuilt.

"We had a lot of roof damage, so the rain got in. They had to gut the whole house," said Toscano.

Then, there was the Babe Ruth complex in Metarie. Katrina hit the fields hard, leaving the league officials with a large rebuilding task.

"All the fences were knocked down, (and) the light poles were broken," said Katz. "So, we had to use just basic open fields until our fields got back together, but they were back to normal around baseball season."

Having the fields ready for the spring season helped restore a small sense of normalcy to the players, many of whom were scattered because their homes were damaged.

"It brought all the kids back together, which was just like normal," said Katz.

Not all of the players on this year's 15-year-old team were part of the 2005 14-year-old division championship squad, but enough of them are back to give Jefferson Parish squad the advantage of having a veteran lineup in a field where most teams are playing in a national tournament for the first time.

"They didn't get out of pool play as 13s, but they won it as 14s," said Babin. "I think they learned as 13s what it takes to win, and I think they realize as 15s that everyone is gunning for us."

Already, this year's tournament has proven to be harder for Jefferson Parish than last year's run in the 14-year-old World Series. Jefferson Parish had to come from behind to edge South Colonie 4-3 last Friday and then lost to Kelso, Wash., 9-6 last Saturday. It had two games remaining in pool play " a Monday meeting with Youngstown, Ohio, and a Tuesday contest against Portland, Maine.

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