The day of Aug. 26 began badly for Orioles pitcher Wade LeBlanc, when he learned that a stress reaction in his left elbow was ending his season after six starts and 22 1/3 innings. But any temptation to dwell on his misfortune disappeared with the force of a 150 mph wind.
As LeBlanc paced a Baltimore hotel room that same night, he was riveted to news coverage of devastation in his hometown. Once Hurricane Laura hit landfall off the Gulf of Mexico, it trained much of its rage on southwest Louisiana and his birthplace of Lake Charles. As the images swirled past -- of torrential rain and winds strong enough to tear lampposts from the streets -- LeBlanc kept score with his wife, Natalie, who was staying at a Dallas hotel with their two young sons because of a mandatory evacuation order.
“Neither one of us really slept,’’ LeBlanc said. “We tried to monitor things at home on the security cameras and our phones. But as soon as the power went off back home, you’re just left watching the Weather Channel. We did a lot of texting back and forth and watching the nightmare unfold on TV. That’s all we could do.’’
The LeBlancs managed to escape with some missing roof shingles, damaged siding and a cracked brick column on their fence. Soon after -- once the Category 4 storm had pummeled Lake Charles, moved north and eased to a tropical depression -- they learned that thousands of others weren’t so fortunate.
Lake Charles supported Wade LeBlanc and Jace Peterson on their way up.
Now they’re giving back
By Jerry Crasnick
The storm uprooted trees and knocked down power lines, destroyed homes and businesses and rendered much of the area uninhabitable and unrecognizable. Like so many communities in the U.S., Lake Charles was already dealing with the economic and human toll of the coronavirus. Now the area confronts a harsh and miserable alternate reality.
“The pictures you see on-line don’t do it justice,’’ said LeBlanc, who returned to Lake Charles for the first time Wednesday. “It’s like bombs went off there.’’
The suffering hits home for a favorite son. Twelve years after his MLB debut, LeBlanc returns to Lake Charles each offseason and holds the place as close as ever to his heart. The people of Calcasieu Parish supported him at the University of Alabama and through eight big-league stops, and he is determined to return the favor through the mantra that charity begins at home.
SCOTT CLAUSE/ USA TODAY NETWORK
LeBlanc and Milwaukee Brewers infielder Jace Peterson, a fellow Lake Charles native, have started a GoFundMe campaign with their wives with a goal of raising $100,000 for their hometown. The initiative, “Operation Rebuild Lake Charles,’’ is a lifeline to friends, neighbors and just plain folks who’ve been thrust into a world of heartache, chaos and uncertainty.
“I’m looking forward to just getting back, door-to-door or setting up at a place and looking for families where there’s obvious devastation,’’ Peterson said. “Whether it’s writing checks to families or local businesses or churches, anything is a blessing. Whether it’s $100,000 or a million dollars, every penny is going to get used.’’
Lake Charles, flanked by Houston to the west and New Orleans to the east, relies on the oil and gas industry for much of its commerce and has a handful of casinos. For a city of 78,000, it boasts an impressive roster of local boys and girls-made good. NBA star Joe Dumars, Hall of Fame baseball player Ted Lyons, NFL running back Matt Forte and former big-league pitchers Chad Ogea and Casey Daigle, who’s married to Olympic softball star Jennie Finch, are all products of Lake Charles.