A letter to the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic, from a kid from New Orleans | Sports

When I was a kid, there was no major league baseball in New Orleans. Everyone clumped together to form an aggregation of fans from all fanbases across the MLB. The Yankees, the Cubs, the Astros, the Braves, the Rangers, and for me the Red Sox were some of the most common clubs we followed.

But it was just not the same to not be able to go to a ballpark, munch on a hot dog and sip a cold soda. New Orleans did not and does not have that excitement. Kids couldn’t go to high-energy games regularly, glove ready to catch a foul ball and spirits raised to lift their heroes at the plate and on the mound.

The Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic provided that experience for kids like me. And with this season being the last year it is being held, albeit in Baton Rouge at Alex Box, I wanted to write this memoir as a testament to the impact it had on so many kids and families across New Orleans who loved baseball and those special evenings.

LSU baseball is the professional team of Louisiana.

METAIRIE, La. – Nicholas Pontiff doesn’t remember too much about his brother’s playing days

Fans spread out across the state. The passion they collectively bring is unmatched, and in a concentrated city like New Orleans, the Tigers were as beloved as any sports team in the area. The manifestation of Louisiana sports passion – outside of football, presented in a game honoring Tiger standout Wally Pontiff Jr., who was from the New Orleans area and went to Jesuit High School.

He passed away unexpectedly at 21 years old, and everyone involved with the programs and fanbases was devastated.

The Wally Pontiff Jr. Foundation set up the game to be played in his memory and as a chance for charity to be facilitated from the Foundation to organizations in need.







from Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic Foundation


My dad bought my family and I tickets on the first base line every year for that April night at Zephyr Field – home of New Orleans’s now absent minor league baseball team. I always felt a special privilege being able to have had such good seats to watch a team I cared about as much as LSU. It was also an opportunity for me to bring a friend to the game, show off my seats to them and laugh the night away while watching the game pass. To my dad, it was his chance to give our family a fun and relaxed evening and gave me the opportunity to get as close to the team I loved.

I deeply cherish spending those nights with him.

Before the game, LSU players would line the first base line and sign as many autographs as possible. I made it an effort every year to get as many signatures as I could. These were my idols, the guys each kid looked up to and wanted to be. And for us in New Orleans, it was the only chance we’d get all year to meet them and get that coveted scribble on baseballs, hats and gloves.

I can remember my next-door neighbor, a close mentor of mine until he recently passed away, coming to the game with us one year and nudging me to get Aaron Nola’s autograph.

“That one is going to be worth something one day,” he told me. “He’s the real deal.”

He was right about that one.

It came out of nowhere. Home early from the Cape Cod Summer League in 2002 and contemplating

I keep my gold LSU hat with the Philadelphia Phillies’ ace’s signature in my childhood room in New Orleans to this day. A ball that sits quietly on my desk, ink fading with the time passing on, has signatures from local legends: Mikie Mahtook and Mason Katz, as well as Tigers gone pro in Kevin Gausman, Austin Nola and JaCoby Jones.

The signatures to me are not just worn black marker. They mean something to me because they are a physical representation of my childhood.

The game offered us memories that live on in my head so vividly, to the point where I can still smell the hints of freshly made popcorn and the leather of my glove or see the Dippin ‘Dots stand that stood at the end of the first base line like an oasis in the desert on those warm April nights. I can freshly remember LSU’s star catcher Micah Gibbs slamming a home run almost all the way to Airline Drive over the left-field wall and being awestruck by the power he showed.

If you walked back across the concourse, the chances of you running into somebody you knew were exponentially high. Old friends, coworkers, and classmates lined the walkway underneath the grandstand, chatting and catching up on the latest developments in their lives. This was a staple of what New Orleans sports looked like.It was a collective atmosphere of fans of the game, who were given this special night for the enjoyment of the event and more importantly, the people that they brought with them.

It’s a common belief that New Orleans is a family itself, despite any adversity we go through or any differences we share, and not too many events showcased that better than the Pontiff Classic.

But as time went on, the game started to gray and grow old. Nick Pontiff, Wally’s younger brother, told WDSU-TV New Orleans that due to the recent passing of the Foundation’s executive director, Sherrell Gorman, and the conversion of Zephyr Field from baseball field to the new home of New Orleans’s professional rugby team, NOLA Gold , this would be the last season the event would be held. However, the Pontiff family and their foundation have continued to show their affection for LSU despite the event’s dissolution.

“I was 16 years old when I attended my brother’s funeral.” LSU sophomore second baseman Nich…

“Wally Pontiff Sr. has been really supportive to me since I got here, literally from the first press conference, and we stayed in touch, ”Jay Johnson said. “What the cause is for is awesome, raising money for charities throughout Louisiana. We’re excited to be able to do it again this year and be a part of that. ”

The lasting legacy of the game will be as a great tribute to a young Wally Pontiff Jr. who touched many lives in his short time on Earth, but also a tribute to him by facilitating companionship, quality family time, and growth of the game of baseball in the New Orleans area. Providing New Orleans kids like me the avenue to get as close to the team as I did on those beautiful April nights was an invaluable contribution to our childhoods. As a writer for the team for three years, I can’t help but think about those games as the foundation for my drive to start writing about the team in the first place.

And even more importantly, the game was my opportunity to spend some of my best memories with people I care about like my dad and my neighbor. So, I want to tell those nights thank you, for giving just a kid from New Orleans something to look back on fondly and share with the people I love. The event means so much more to us than a Tuesday night midweek game.

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