Semi-pro baseball team finds home in Morgan City

Infielder Kyle LaMotta is congratulated by teammates Louie Curcio (15) and Carlos Castillo (30) after blasting a grand slam against the Coastal Kingfish Sunday. The Pipeliners won all three games against the Kingfish, putting them in first place in the Continental League. * Photo by KYLE CARRIER

Baseball is "America's Pastime." It's the sound of wood bats cracking against a baseball. It's the smell of hot dogs, cheering fans and the blissful sounds of "Take me out to the ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.

It's the thrill of a walk-off homerun and the agony of a game-ending double play.

And up until recently, baseball in the Tri-parish area was limited to youth leagues, summer leagues, high schools and Nicholls State University.

Thanks to one local man's desire to bring an independent baseball team to south Louisiana, there's another option: the South Louisiana Pipeliners in Morgan City, the Tri-parish area's newest semi-professional independent baseball team.

Take the drive to the Morgan City High School Tiger Diamond any weekday morning and you'll notice towering baseball shots bouncing off the outfield wall, cleanly fielded baseballs and pitchers throwing everything from fastballs to breaking balls.

The team, 7-3 on the season, took the home field for the first time Saturday. They swept the three-game weekend series against the Coastal Kingfish out of Florida.

"We talked with the American Association among others," said team founder and head coach David Angeron. "The Continental League just so happened to call me and said they only had five teams in the league and they needed an extra team. I scout for the Milwaukee Brewers, so I started calling the network of scouts that I knew from the area to see if we could field a team with quality players. They were able to do so."

The Berwick native developed a name prominent to south Louisiana's importance to the oil industry and began scouting for players.

Angeron, who was once the head coach at Berwick High School before coaching the Pensacola Pelicans of the American Association, assembled his team with the help of field coordinator and co-manager Sammy Torreira and player/pitching instructor Carlos Castillo.

"Once you move up to that level and have the opportunity to coach professional baseball, it's kind of hard to come back down because (pro ball) is such a fast-paced game," Angeron admitted. "I got out of it a few years ago to spend time with my kids, and when this opportunity came around, my kids were right here in Morgan City with me, so I couldn't pass it up."

With both Angeron and Torreira serving as scouts for Milwaukee, they rushed to the phones to find approximately 25 players to fill their roster.

Angeron was able to field a team, which lost its opener 5-2 to the Alexandria Aces May 16 before winning its first game the following day, 2-1.

"We have several guys that were with Major League affiliations and a couple that are straight out of college that got overlooked in the draft," Angeron remarked. "It's a true prospect team. It's all guys that have the opportunity to move up and play professional baseball. Our main goal is to see how many guys we can help move up."

Of the 24 players currently on the Pipeliners' roster, seven have either spent time in the Major Leagues or with an affiliate of a Major League Baseball team.

All of them, however, are either living with host families or in a nearby Morgan City hotel.

One of the key players on the team is Castillo, 34, who doubles as pitcher. Despite being the team's veteran, he must also make time to teach and mentor the younger players who have yet to have a chance to play in a pro organization.

Castillo spent four seasons in Major League Baseball with the Chicago White Sox (1997-99) and Boston Red Sox (2001). In his four seasons, Castillo posted a 10-7 record with 130 strikeouts and a 5.04 ERA in 111 mound appearances.

He's also played in Taiwan and Japan.

The Boston native, who has played baseball for 16 years total, said he's been fortunate to have experienced all he has, but he's even more thrilled to be able to mentor the young Pipeliner players with Major League aspirations.

"I'm here to be the mentor and coach," he said. "I do my job but I also have to teach and help them do theirs. I'm just trying to get everyone on the same page here so we can move forward and win."

"I've been doing this a long time," Castillo added. "It's been alright. You have some young guys that are learning. That's why we are basically here, to teach the young guys."

He currently leads the team on the mound with a 1.80 ERA and 13 strikeouts.

One of the other team leaders, infielder Lester Contreras, 24, spent time in the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league organization before being released and playing one year in Mexico.

The Miami native said he hopes to use the Pipeliners to catch scouts' eyes once again and hopefully earn himself another shot at the majors.

He currently leads the team in hitting, batting .417 with one home run and seven RBIs.

"This is my job, and I would like to have one more opportunity to play professionally," he said. "If I get that opportunity, I'm going to continue to play hard and work at it. I'm just happy to be here."

"I've had a chance to see many different levels," he added. "I'm just here for my teammates now, helping them as much as I can."

One drawback the Pipeliners are dealing with this year is lack of home games. So far, they have only played in the area once, this past weekend's series against the Coastal Kingfish.

However, games in Thibodaux and even New Iberia could be in store for the team's future.

"We are still looking to get things ready for next year," Angeron said. "We are still working on having a home field for next year so we can play at home. We are just trying to prepare and get out to the local community and the market. It's not just about baseball; it's about being a part of the community as well."

However, local fans have traveled to Alexandria and Crowley to root the Pipeliners on to victory, keeping Angeron optimistic that the team will only grow in support once they have a full-time home stadium.

"We have a good following," he said. "We've had people follow us to Alexandria and Crowley to see our away games, so it's been interesting. The youth players come into our academy in Morgan City and the parents are really excited about that."

With the season so young, Angeron says there is still a lot of work to be done.

The team started off 4-1 but dropped to 4-3 after struggling in the bullpen.

With so much roster turnover as players get a chance to move up, he expects the roster to change on an almost weekly basis.

"We have several affiliations that have already contacted us about several of our players," he explained. "We'll keep 22 or 23 players on the roster. We'll probably get rid of three or four this week just to bring in some new pitchers and go from there."

He also looks to incorporate more local talent. So far, only two Louisiana players, infielder Andrew Revall of LaPlace and former Tulane standout Seth Henry of Berwick, are on the roster. Henry joined the team this weekend following a stellar career with the Green Wave.

The players understand baseball is a business and that their jobs are on the line every day. Castillo said all that matters to the team is coming together and winning a championship.

There's plenty of time left. With 60 games in the season, play lasts through Aug. 23.

"I hope we get the ring," Castillo said. "That's what it's all about. For some guys, this might be the only chance they get. Every time I come out every season, I try to get a ring. That's what players live for."

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