Ever since it joined the ranks of Dixie Youth Baseball in 1967, the City of Ville Platte has been on the national stage partly because of two World Series titles in 1985 and 1995 under its belt as well as two national directors who call the city home.
The latter of which, Michael Dess Fontenot, has been on the national board for a total of 35 years. The last six of those years has been as national director. He was recognized with a trophy at this month’s Dixie Youth World Series in Lumberton, N.C., for his years of serving on the national board.
His time in Ville Platte youth baseball began back when the city was still playing Little League. “I wasn’t very good,” Fontenot admitted. “I was average, but I definitely wasn’t an All-Star player. I played for Goldman Guillory on the Cubs, and then I played on the Cardinals.”
After finishing the Marines in 1972, Fontenot again got involved in the city’s baseball program. “I was at the Platte Theater on a Sunday afternoon with one of my best friends ‘Big’ Reilly,” Fontenot said. “He said that he was going to baseball practice and that he wanted me to go help him. That’s how it started. I went help him practice with Dixie Youth 13 and 14-year-olds, and I never quit.”
Then over a decade later in 1983, Fontenot was elected as state director. “When I first ran, I went to Alexandria and ran against a guy from Gonzales,” he said, “and I beat him pretty bad.”
“The state director does all the work,” he continued. “He puts on all the tournaments and rules on all of the issues. It’s a big job being the state director, and the state director is also a national board member. We go to the World Series and have meetings every day. We go through the financial aspect of the corporation and where we are going to have the tournament the next year.”
Fontenot served as state director for 29 years before, as he said, he “got tired of it.” He felt it was time to quit and was then nominated for national director to replace fellow Ville Platte resident Brent Soileau.
“The national director just helps the state director with whatever he needs,” Fontenot commented. “The only thing you do as national director is sit on the board. People will send in rule changes and policy changes, and you are one of 46 votes to vote to either adopt or reject them.”
A couple of the issues that were recently adopted by the board are changes to the bats and pitch counts.
Fontenot called the change of the bats significant. “With those hot bats that we had, eight-year-old kids were hitting the ball 200-feet,” he commented. “That’s impractical. Because of that, we might have had 20 home runs in a tournament.”
“This year we went to a bat that reacts just like a wooden bat,” he continued. “I see it where we are going back to the original type of baseball we used to have where you’re going to have to coach defense and where you’re going to have to bunt. It’s bringing the old game back, and that bat, to me, is just wonderful.”
The other big issue is not as wonderful to Fontenot. “This is the second or third year that we do pitch count,” he stated. “I don’t like it because I liked the old system where you pitched so many innings. The bad thing about pitch count is a kid can throw 40 pitches everyday. So, if you have seven games in a tournament, that kid can throw in excess of 300 pitches.”
Fontenot continued, “I don’t think anybody could prove to me that pitch count will save your arm versus innings. I think it gives us more problems because people disagree on the pitch count.”
He was recently reelected for another four-year term as national director which will put him at over 40 years on the national board. Over that time, Fontenot has seen Ville Platte win both its World Series titles and add to its number of state championships. The total number of state championships is now over 20.
“When Ville Platte gets on the field, I think we beat a lot of teams just because we’re Ville Platte,” expressed Fontenot. “The other teams get nervous when they play us because, most of the time, Ville Platte is well coached. It’s not that we have better players, but we’re going to have some good pitching and some good defense. It works on people when they see those big blue pinstripes.”
Winning the award for Fontenot was good, but the satisfaction of being involved with Dixie Youth for so long comes from seeing kids that he coached who are now dads with kids playing baseball. “I’m still coaching, so some dads come up to me and say I coached them whenever they were 10 or 12-years-old,” he said. “That’s what the satisfaction is.”
“We were at a state tournament one year, and I had a guy who kept looking at me,” he continued. “Finally, he came and introduced himself to me. He played on the Bossier City team in 1984. I said I remembered that they came to Ville Platte with that big boy Trey White and that they had gone to Augusta, Ga., for the World Series. That happens just about every year when somebody comes to me and asks if I remember them. I get a lot of satisfaction from that too.”
Another aspect of being state and national director is signing the home run balls that were hit at each tournament. Fontenot said. “Big grown men will show me pictures where they have a baseball that has my name on it.”
He concluded, “It makes me feel good.”