Flashback: Third time’s a charm for 2006 Rummel-based American Legion team

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2006 Nationwide Legion WS champs

Archbishop Rummel High School-based American Legion teams have a rich history of competitive baseball in the New Orleans area.

Of course, the ultimate goal of all Legion teams is to win all the marbles in the annual American Legion World Series. Rummel had two unsuccessful cracks at the overall championship in the 1970s, before the 2006 team, sponsored by Nationwide Restoration, captured the national title.

New Orleans area baseball teams have competed in the American Legion World Series numerous times since the event began in 1926. Yet there have been only five years in which area teams have captured the overall championship. In addition to the 2006 Rummel squad, the other teams include the 1936 S.J. Peters-based Zatarain Papooses, 1946 Jesuit-based Post 125, 1960 Jesuit-based Tulane Shirts, and 2012 Jesuit-based Retif Oil.

Rummel’s American Legion past included two teams, coached by Larry Schneider, which reached the American Legion World Series in 1974 and 1976. Sponsored by Schaff Brothers, the team finished fourth in both years (Note: In 2009, Ken Trahan convened a panel of historians, sportswriters, coaches, and former players who spanned several decades to determine the best American Legion teams in metro New Orleans history. The 1974 Schaff team tied for the No. 1 ranking with 1980 Jesuit-based Odeco, while the 1976 Schaff team ranked No. 6).

Thirty years later Rummel was still turning out good teams, both in prep and Legion competition. Coach David Baudry’s Nationwide team had won the state Legion title in 2005, earning a trip to the Mid-South Regional. However, they were eliminated by Enid, Oklahoma, the eventual World Series champion.

The Rummel High School team, also coached by Baudry, won the District 8-5A championship in 2006. His talented team included All-Metro performers Robby Broach, Ryan Scott, Brent Brignac, and Mike Liberto. Brett Palermo, Kirk Cunningham and Dane Maxwell were All-District selections. Baudry was named the Coach of the Year in Rummel’s district. In the prep state tournament, Rummel reached the semi-finals but was eliminated by eventual champion Barbe.

All of those players transitioned to the Nationwide American Legion team that summer, while Baudry added eligible college freshmen who brought additional experience, including Kevin Weidenbacher and Matt Brown.

Nationwide swept its competition in the Louisiana Southeast Region tournament in Ponchatoula, defeating Holy Cross-based Ponstein’s in the finals. Baudry had confidence in the team’s talent. However, he told the Times-Picayune at the time, “My main concern is, do they want to go through the long grind again to reach the World Series.”

Nationwide handily won its first three games in the State Legion tourney in Shreveport against St. Amant, Shreveport, and Bossier, behind the pitching of Brown, Carl Labit, and Broach. Although they lost, 10-7, to a strong East Ascension Gauthier-Amadee team in the fourth game, Rummel still advanced to the finals. Nationwide rebounded in the finals against Gauthier-Amadee, winning decisively on a three-hitter by Maxwell, 13-1. Baudry credited his team’s success to its top two hitters, Liberto and Broach, being able to get on base for the middle of the lineup featuring Scott and Cunningham.

Nationwide advanced to the Mid-South Regional for the second year in a row. One of their foes at the tournament site of Crowley, Louisiana, was the Enid, Oklahoma team that eliminated them in 2005. Baudry expected to cross paths again with Enid. He said in a Times-Picayune interview, “I feel like our experience level will help us. I think if we are dedicated to playing hard, we have a chance to be around on the final day.”

Nationwide combined a 16-hit attack with a three-hit performance by Matt Brown to defeat Campbellsville, Kentucky, in the first game, 17-4. In their second game against Texarkana, Nationwide had to rally twice to overcome the Texas entry, 16-11. Ben Usner was credited with the win after pitching the final three innings, while Liberto and Maxwell led the hitting attack.

The team recorded shutouts in their next two games against Enid and Tupelo, Mississippi, as Broach and Maxwell turned in masterful performances on the mound. Facing Enid again in the finals, Nationwide gained a measure of revenge from 2005, with a 5-1 victory, their 40th of the season. Brignac was the winning pitcher with 10 strikeouts. Palermo was the hitting star for Nationwide, going 3-for-4 and driving in three of the team’s five runs. Maxwell was named the tournament MVP.

Nationwide advanced to the final eight teams in the national championship round in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It had been 46 years since a New Orleans area team won the American Legion World Series, and it had been 30 years since the Rummel Schaff Brothers team claimed a World Series berth. Hoping to end the drought, Baudry believed one of the keys to his team’s success was the experience that was retained with the seniors and college freshmen. Baudry told the Times-Picayune, “They know what to expect. Baseball is a high priority to them, and they have already played at a high level.”

Nationwide was feeling good about it chances. They had been battle-tested on their journey to the Word Series, including the victory over last year’s champion. Chris Accardo, father of Nationwide’s catcher Brett Accardo, had played for the Schaff Brothers team that went to the World Series in 1976. Familiar with the usual level of competition in the World Series, he remembers cautioning the squad about its confidence going into the tournament. He recalls telling them, “Guys, this is not like playing at Mike Miley playground. Your opponents will be a level above what you are accustomed to playing.”

Sure enough, Nationwide was set back on its heels in their first game against a very experienced team from Terre Haute, Indiana. Terre Haute took an early lead, 6-1, and Nationwide wasn’t able to catch up, putting up only two more runs. The team bounced back with a 7-6 win a seesaw battle with Lincoln, Nebraska. Baudry said about the win, “They are not satisfied with coming up here for a little vacation. They want to stay awhile.”

After playing inconsistently in the first two games, Nationwide mounted a strong attack against Milton, Massachusetts. Maxwell turned in a fine pitching performance, while Accardo led the offense with a grand slam home run. The elder Accardo vividly remembers his son’s dramatic hit . “I was just hoping Brett could deliver one run with the bases loaded, but then he hit it out. It was the biggest moment of my life.” Nationwide won convincingly, 10-4. Baudry said after the game, “Maybe we’re over the hump now. I just think we’ve been playing tight, and I think now maybe we might be able to relax.”

Nationwide’s fourth game entailed a re-match against Terre Haute. This time the outcome was vastly different, as Nationwide built up an early 14-0 lead that included sending 13 player to the plate in the second inning. Terre Haute tried to fight back but fell short in the 14-9 loss. Broach then struck out 11 against Middleton, Virginia, in Nationwide’s fifth game in which they won, 6-2. The victory advanced them into the finals in a winner-take-all game against Terre Haute.

In the final game, Nationwide’s starting pitcher Matt Brown faced off with Terre Haute’s ace Josh Phegley, a future major leaguer. Terre Haute was a different team from one that took a shellacking in the fourth game. They led until the bottom of the eighth inning, but then Nationwide put together three runs for a final winning score of 6-4. Brown hurled a complete game with 11 strikeouts and got the necessary offense from several teammates.

The Rummel-based Legion program had finally captured the World Series title on its third attempt. Liberto was named the tournament MVP and joined on the all-tournament team by Weidenbacher, Broach, and Cunningham. Baudry was complimentary of his team after the game. He told the Times-Picayune, “We’re very resilient. These guys, the last two nights, made big, big pitches and that’s the big key. We left everything we had out on that field.”

2006 Nationwide at MLB World Series
The Nationwide team was honored at the 2006 World Series in Detroit.

Fifteen years later, Baudry, currently head baseball coach at Hahnville High School, reflects on the 2006 team and its accomplishment, “At the beginning of the summer, I thought we had something special. We had a lot of returning players from the year before. I knew if we could stay healthy, we’d be around at the end of the summer. He added, “We had good competition at the district level that prepared us for the post-season tournaments. Our pitching always gave us a good chance to win. They pounded the strike zone. They knew if the ball were hit, our defense would make the plays.” Baudry was complimentary of the support by the parents of the players, recalling they rented a bus to travel with the team.

Brady Benoit, who was Baudry’s assistant coach in 2006 and is now the head baseball coach at Northshore High School in Slidell, offered his assessment. “The talent on our team was off the chart. It seemed like we had a different guy step up every night to lead the team. The players knew someone would pick up the slack, and they didn’t care who got the spotlight.” Benoit added, “People couldn’t believe that all our players came from one school, whereas the other tournament teams were comprised of all-stars from several teams.”

Still today, Larry Scott, father of Ryan Scott, has fond memories of the momentous season. He said, “The three months that we spent together that summer was the most fun for the parents, including the Field of Dreams visit in Iowa and the long bus ride to Cedar Rapids. We were like a family and everyone has many great memories.”  Ryan was honored with the American Legion Louisiana Player of the Year award and received a scholarship.

The Nationwide team was treated to a game at the 2006 MLB World Series at Detroit’s Comerica Park, where they were recognized in a pre-game ceremony.

The complete roster for the 2006 Nationwide Restoration (Post 175) squad included: Brett Accardo, Brent Brignac, Robby Broach, Matt Brown, Kirk Cunningham, Gregory Dick, Cory Hoffman, Tyler Koelling, Carl Labit, Mike Liberto, Dane Maxwell, Matt O’Connor, Brett Palermo, Ryan Scott, Ben Usner, Kevin Weidenbacher, and Kyle Zara. Team manager was Anthony Longo. A testament to the team’s talent was that eleven of the players went on to play baseball at the collegiate level.

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Richard Cuicchi

New Orleans baseball historian

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Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.

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