Weeks away from football season, sports stories still abound

by Walter Pierce

Sports fans in Lafayette have much for which to be thankful.

Things you should have done as a sports fan in the Acadiana area recently:

*Should've paid more attention to the Lafayette Little League in the regional tournament. The local team won five straight games in the Waco, Texas, regional to become the second Lafayette team to make it to the Little League World Series, which begins on Thursday. In doing so, they came from behind three times, including both the semifinals and finals, picking up where the 2005 "Cardiac Cajuns" left off in the area's inaugural World Series year.

The Broadmoor-based team has also become the area's best national advertising. They've already made two national-television appearances and will make at least three more in the next 10 days, each of them amounting to a two-hour commercial for Lafayette and the area. Think about this: Unless the New Orleans Saints make the playoffs, Lafayette Little League will be on national television more than the Saints will this year.

*Should've jumped on the Cajun football bandwagon earlier. Forget all the hype about the hiring of Mark Hudspeth as new head coach, and the buzz that's surrounding the Cajuns heading into what will likely be a rebuilding season. And forget that UL is picked to finish at or near the bottom in every Sun Belt Conference preseason poll, since that remains only conjecture at this time.

Here's the only scientific, credible way to approach improvements in Cajun football thus far: I do a significant amount of writing for the game program that's sold in the stands each home Saturday. UL officials informed me last week that they don't need as much from me this year; space that's normally been allocated for feature stories, etc., has been taken up by the increased listing of financial donors to the athletic program. That list of Ragin' Cajun Athletic Foundation contributors is much longer in 2011, meaning less space for my prose but more dollars in the department coffers.

*Should've gone to the Chitimacha Louisiana Open more. Of the top 10 players at the halfway point of this past weekend's PGA Championship, the season's final major, six of them played in the Louisiana Open in the not-too-distant past.

*Should've been a UL baseball regular at Moore Field. It's been a while since the 2000 team advanced to the College World Series, but regular Cajun followers got three years to watch a player that's going to be a major league All-Star in quick order. And, since he's only just turned 25 and only made his major league debut 15 months ago, Jonathan Lucroy's going to be around for a while.

A standout catcher for the Cajuns from 2005-07, Lucroy has quietly become a big part of the late-season success of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. Along with the catching skills and savvy that have made him immensely popular with Milwaukee pitchers, Lucroy is hitting .285, the third-best mark among players who have played at least 90 of the Brewers' 119 games this year. He ranks third among the National League's regular catchers in hitting and leads that group in hitting since the All-Star break (.300 as of Saturday). By comparison, former Southern standout Rickie Weeks, who made the All-Star Game this year at second base for the Brewers, is hitting .272 this season.

There's still time to make up for those oversights. The Cajuns don't play a home football game until Sept. 17 against Nicholls State, and the RCAF isn't picky about when donations or season ticket orders come in. The Brewers come to Houston's Minute Maid Park to face the Astros over Labor Day weekend on Sept. 2-4 with Lucroy sure to be in the lineup. Lafayette Little League will play Thursday at 7 p.m. on one of the ESPN networks and will play at least two other times in Williamsport. The Louisiana Open is already gearing up for its annual late-March action and has several ways for fans to get involved with the area's premier pro sports event.

Don't say I didn't warn you.