Four months ago, neither Kwan Adkins nor Cal Carver could not foresee himself spending his summer in Louisiana.
Similarly, Tyler Smith did not expect to still be playing baseball.
Yet the trio of current and former Demons found themselves squaring off at Acadian Ballpark, playing in week two of the Louisiana Sandlot League, formed by former UL Lafayette shortstop Hayden Cantrelle.
On a muggy South Louisiana Wednesday night, Smith and Carver’s team squared off against Adkins’ squad in a game where, yes, score was kept but hardly mattered. This was baseball at its purest.
There were no official uniforms – teams primarily wore either black or white T-shirts and most players were shorts instead of pants.
As the league’s name suggests, it looked – and felt – like sandlot baseball games with slight differences. There were two umpires and an operational scoreboard, admission was charged and the starting lineups were posted on the group’s Twitter account (@LaSandlotLeague).
Still, at the heart of what has happened the past two Wednesday nights is a three-letter word.
“I saw (Cantrelle’s) tweet and jumped in because I needed to get some games in,” said Adkins, who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants following his four-year NSU career that ended in 2018. “Here, we’re having fun playing the game. No stats are being kept. There’s no pressure. It’s guys coming out and playing baseball like we’re kids again. It’s called Sandlot for a reason.”
Adkins saw the league’s genesis on Twitter, but Carver came about it in another way.
Former Demon Chaney Dodge, who played with Cantrelle while growing up, turned Carver on to the league.
“I had an idea it was going on, but I hadn’t planned on playing in it,” said Carver, a left-handed pitcher whose sophomore season was cut short because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. “Chaney called me and asked if I was still in Natchitoches. He told me to get my stuff and come down because I was throwing two innings. It worked with my throwing schedule, and I’m not going to turn down free baseball since we haven’t played since March. I came down and had a good time.”
While Carver did not play alongside Adkins while at Northwestern State, the pair has formed a friendly rivalry that fits seamlessly into the sandlot atmosphere.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Adkins said he had pay back on his mind after Carver struck him out looking during the first week of play. Adkins gained a small measure of revenge on his fellow Demon, beating out a bobbled ball to second that scored a run.
The pair shared a laugh and some friendly jawing at the end of the inning, which brought Carver’s outing to a close.
Earlier with Carver on the mound, Smith flashed his speed in center field, spearing a hard-hit line drive that was headed toward the left-center field gap.
Smith has played in a wide variety of atmospheres since debuting at Northwestern State in 2017. The one that permeated Acadian Ballpark was different than most he has experienced.
“It’s relaxed,” he said. “There’s no pressure. We’re having fun, and you’re able to work on things. We have fun back at (NSU), but it’s a little more serious there.”
Smith and Adkins played alongside each other for two seasons in the Demon outfield and both homered in NSU’s 9-0 NCAA Corvallis Regional win against San Diego State in 2018.
Teammates for those two seasons, the two did find themselves on opposite sides during intrasquad games, but the sandlot setting made for a more friendly competition. The one thing it has not accomplished is settling a debate that began in the media room following the Demons’ win against the Aztecs.
Smith was asked a question about his “signature bat flip” following his home run. A recent tweet showing Smith’s home run brought back a fun back-and-forth between Smith and Adkins, who also bat flipped following his home run against the Aztecs but avoided postgame questions about it.
“Kwan for sure,” Smith said with a laugh when asked about who had the better bat flip. “That bat flip in Corvallis, he should have been called out for it instead of me. I’m going to leave that right there.”
Photo: The first group of players from the Louisiana Sandlot League pose for a postgame photo on July 8. Credit: Submitted Photo