Pedal Valves looks for third straight title as American Legion opens 91st season

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2017 Pedal Valves baseball team
Head coach Danny Riehm (left) looks to lead Pedal Valves to a third-straight state American Legion title following the success of the 2017 squad (pictured).

While American Legion baseball does not approach the quantity or quality of players and teams of years past, it is still an important, traditional, significant entity in the Greater New Orleans area.

The 91st year of American Legion baseball opens for local teams on Monday, which appropriately, is Memorial Day for an entity which represents service to country.

The district tournaments will take place in late June with the winner and runner-up each advancing to the state tournament July 6-11 at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium. The state tournament will consist of 10 teams. The regional tournament is August 8-12 at Kirsch-Rooney.

There are five districts in Louisiana, including three area districts. The other two districts are from Bayou country and the Baton Rouge area and the Lafayette area. There are 21 teams total competing for state honors.

Games this year will consist of seven innings, modeling prep baseball which will be a lesser drain on pitching.

Sidney Parfait has served as the American Legion first district chairman for 23 years and the state department chairman for six years.

“I do it for the young men who get the opportunity to play,” Parfait said. “I want to make sure we have a quality program. I feel I still relate well to the coaches and players. I’ve seen legion baseball go down dramatically in other areas. I’m a veteran and we respect all veterans. We provide this program but it is all about the young men who play the game. It means the world to me when young men come up to me years later and tell me how much they got out of American Legion baseball.”

Parfait pointed out some stars who went on to bigger things.

“Going back to Rusty Staub and Putsy Caballero, we have had great young men in our program,” Parfait said. “Jimmy Gaudet, Jimmy and Kirk Bullinger, Thomas Diamond and Johnny Giavotella played legion ball. Recently, we watched Owen Magee come up through legion after his prep days at Brother Martin and went on to shine at Delgado and UNO. Cody Ducote, Emerson Gibbs and so many others come to mind. That’s what it is all about for me.”

Most recently, long-time American Legion participants Brother Martin (2017) and Holy Cross (2018) have pulled out. Both were in the program for over 75 years, including when Brother Martin was St. Aloysius before merging with Cor Jesu.

Parfait does not mince words about losing the two prominent schools most recently.

“It’s very disappointing to lose Brother Martin last year and Holy Cross this year,” Parfait said. “Both coaches (Jeff Lupo and Cass Hargis) came up through the American Legion program. Cass received a $1,000 scholarship through the legion program when he was a player at Holy Cross. The travel ball component is overrated. We always keep the door open. We would always welcome both back. Brother Martin and Holy Cross were two of our stellar participants for so many years.”

Parfait feels strongly about continuing the fight to keep legion baseball viable for many years to come.

“Legion instills citizenship, discipline, teamwork, all the things you need to succeed in life,” Parfait said. “Speaking with college coaches and people around the country, travel ball is ‘me’ ball while legion is ‘we’ ball. We will do things the right way. We will respect our opponents and do it the right way. It should coincide with the values high schools have.”

The independent-based Pedal Valves squad of coach Danny Riehm is the two-time defending state champion. Pedal Valves reach the semifinals of the Mid-South regional in 2017.

Pedal Valves consists of players from Archbishop Rummel, De La Salle, Hahnville, Holy Cross, Riverside Academy and St. Charles Catholic. Most schools, if not all, now use American Legion baseball as a development tool, playing younger players while allowing graduating seniors to play elsewhere with several of those seniors electing to play for the Pedal Vales squad.

Pedal Valves defeated St. Charles Catholic-based Townsend Homes in the state championship game a year ago. In 2016, Pedal Valves downed Holy Cross-based Ponstein’s for the title.

Riehm played at Jesuit, graduating in 2000. He played American Legion baseball for the Jesuit-based Retif Oil squad.

Riehm served as a student assistant under Randy Bush at UNO in 2002. He also served as an assistant coach at Jesuit in 2003-04 before serving as a top assistant at Hahnville under Frank Cazeaux. Then, he began serving as the head coach the New Orleans Spice, winning the Dizzy Dean World Series in 2006, 2007 and 2012 before winning two World Series with JPRD East in 2013 and 2014.

“Our legion rivalries with Ponstein’s (Holy Cross) and Schaff Brothers (Rummel) were special,” Riehm said. “Newman’s team was really good as well under Billy Fitzgerald. Those were great memories. It’s kind of nostalgic. I believe it is a tradition that is worth preserving on a long-term basis.”

Riehm is sorry to see the departure of Brother Martin and Holy Cross.

“I understand the reasons that Brother Martin and Holy Cross have pulled out of legion and I respect their decisions,” Riehm said. “Everyone must do what they feel is best for their school, players and programs. I wish they were still part of it. Perhaps that can change in the future.”

Riehm is bullish on what American Legion baseball represents.

“The values of American Legion baseball are so important,” Riehm said. “Responsibility, sportsmanship, teamwork, respect for the country and the flag. These are wholesome, good things for young people to be involved with. Hopefully, we have made legion better with our team. I am hopeful that teams will see that there is nothing wrong with American Legion baseball. It is for the right reasons. People respect it.”

Playing for local, state and national titles provide great motivation to participate in American Legion baseball.

“I think the exciting part about legion is that you get to play for a championship while other entities do not,” Riehm said. “The media still covers it. Travel teams play a lot of meaningless games, not competing for anything, really. When they are winding down in July, we are playing the most fun part of the schedule. That is what I like about it. You have something to play for. The competition at the state and regional level is outstanding.”

Riehm has a unique perspective on the comparison between legion and travel ball competition.

“I’ve been on both sides, having coached the New Orleans Spice,” Riehm said. “I feel I have a good understanding of it. The legion games at the highest level are harder to win. There is a legitimate championship to compete for, often facing older competition. I feel it’s more of a sales pitch for the travel leagues. We play in travel tournaments on the weekend. The legion games are tougher games to win. If you get to the American Legion World Series, you get to play on ESPN. That is exciting.”

Here is a list of the Louisiana American Legion teams in 2018 and the schools they are based out of:

District I
Retif Oil (Jesuit)
Wilson (Warren Easton)
Best Chevrolet (De La Salle)

District II East
Deanie’s Seafood (Rummel)
Gulf Coast Bank (Chalmette)
Refuel (Shaw)
Otto Candies (Hahnville)
Patriots (John Curtis)

District II West
Pedal Valves (Independent)
Noranda Bulldogs (Lutcher)
Townsend Homes (St. Charles)
ES&H (Destrehan)
Team PVS (East St. John)

Southeast
Southland Hogs (Covenant Christian)
Gauthier Amadee (East Ascension)
GIS (Vandebilt Catholic)

Lafayette Area
Crowley Millers (Crowley)
DeRidder Tigers (DeRidder)
Gulf Coast Bank 29ers (Abbeville)
St. Landry Bank Indians (Vermilion Catholic)
Opelousas General Health System Warriors (Opelousas)

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