Ready to make O's climb

The Baltimore Sun

Ryan Adams was among the lucky ones.

Lucky compared with what some classmates and teammates dealt with after Hurricane Katrina.

Lucky he and his family had a house to return to, even though it had no air conditioning, no electricity for weeks.

Lucky he could complete his senior year at his elite high school, even though it took five months before he could re-enroll.

Lucky he could play baseball again last spring, even though his season was cut short because of a leg injury that simply wouldn't go away.

Adams, a middle infielder with the Aberdeen IronBirds selected by the Orioles in the second round of this year's amateur draft, was a key member of one of Louisiana's best high school baseball programs for a couple of seasons.

Last year, however, he emerged as more than just a promising prospect. A national disaster helped him become the rare teenager who sees the bigger picture.

"If we can overcome something like that, then a little hitting slump or something else like that is nothing," Adams said. "So yeah, I think you take that with you."

Bayou kids know the drill.

Weatherman says a hurricane is headed for the greater New Orleans area. Those who can, head out.

Adams and his family had evacuated a couple of times before. Pending disasters often turned into mini family vacations. They'd head to see relatives in Texas and maybe take in a baseball game. Watch the Texas Rangers or the Houston Astros.

Then they'd come back when the hurricane passed over and no damage was done. It was so routine, so blase, so Chicken Little.

"You hear about hurricanes all the time, and it seems like they always missed us," Adams, 19, said. "You hear about the worst. People are going to be dying and snakes and alligators are going to be on the streets and that stuff. ... Every year you have [the warnings]. I think that's why so many people didn't evacuate. It was just part of the norm, part of the procedure."

Adams was sitting in a classroom at Jesuit High School in the heart of New Orleans a year ago last week when officials announced that the school would close the next day, a Friday, because of this burgeoning storm named Katrina.

Cool, Adams and his classmates thought, a three-day weekend.

Within 48 hours, his family left for an uncle's house near Dallas, an eight-hour drive that took 12 because of traffic pouring out of the Crescent City. The Adamses went to a Rangers game in Arlington. Then they watched on television as their hometown was swept away.

Two-man team

Three days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, Rick Adams checked his house in Mandeville, about 40 miles north of the city. His wife and 16-year-old daughter stayed in Dallas. Father and son returned home.

The good news: Their house - built just months before - was still standing. Somehow, the countless fallen trees that had once lined their suburban neighborhood chose other homes to damage or destroy.

But power and phone lines everywhere were down. The Adamses' house reeked of spoiled food. Their swimming pool was black from debris. The suffocating heat of a Louisiana summer had turned the place into a four-walled oven.

Rick Adams, a self-employed businessman who screens in swimming pools, brought along a portable generator, a window air conditioning unit and "anything else I could think of that could sustain us for a little while."

By day, father and son cleaned their home and drove to customers' houses making note of structures that had been damaged. They'd drive an hour to Baton Rouge for gas and food and wait in lines for 90 minutes to buy the supplies.

"When you get home after doing stuff all day, you're exhausted," the son said. "You can't come home to a nice meal or nice bed and air conditioning. Just more work."

Using the generator for power, they'd sit in their underwear dripping with sweat and watch baseball on satellite TV in virtual darkness. Then they'd switch the generator to the air conditioning unit and sleep in the lone room that slowly cooled.

That's when their theme for the future took shape: Deal with inconveniences. Things could be much worse.

"Even though it was stressful ... we had a good time together, the two of us," Rick Adams said. "You don't realize what all you have. You have all these things, but you don't always have to have them. Sometimes it's OK to camp out."

School wiped out

Sam Dozier, a longtime coach and gym teacher, had spent the past five years leading Jesuit's freshman baseball team. In 2005, he finally got the call to take over a varsity program that had produced major leaguers such as Will Clark and Rusty Staub and had won a state title the previous year. Dozier had 11 seniors returning.

Then Katrina hit. The first floor of the city school took in about 7 feet of water. The cafeteria was drowned. So was the gym, the auditorium. The school closed and, suddenly, 1,450 carefully selected boys with top academic and, in many cases, athletic pedigrees were displaced.

Many enrolled elsewhere, some in Texas, some closer to their homes in Louisiana. Adams, who had to drive 45 minutes to Jesuit each day, went to St. Paul's, another private school less than 20 minutes from his house. It wasn't Jesuit, but the commute was shorter - another silver lining from the big storm.

About 600 students took night classes taught by Jesuit faculty at a nearby suburban high school - a way to maintain some continuity, Dozier said.

Jesuit administration kept promising the school would rebound. Kids like Adams had faith. And on Jan. 23, the school - located in clear sight of the now infamous Superdome - opened its top three floors.

Soon, normality and baseball returned. The full varsity squad and all but one JV player came back, though some lost everything, including their gloves.

"Baseball was a salvation; coming back to Jesuit was a salvation," Dozier said. "And being able to play a full season, that was healing for these kids."

If this were a Hollywood script, Jesuit would have won the 2006 state title and Adams, the star shortstop, would have hit the game-winning homer, signed a multimillion-dollar pro contract and then helped New Orleans get back on its feet.

This wasn't a movie, though. Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 and caused roughly $82 billion in structural damage to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. A year later, the devastation lingers.

"There's still so much destruction, still debris everywhere," Adams said. "My school actually sits in a neighborhood and almost no one is living around there. People are still out of whack in New Orleans."

So, fittingly for a true-life tale, Jesuit lost by a run in the state semifinals and failed to make the title game for the first time in three years. Adams' resuscitated senior season collapsed after he tweaked his right hamstring 15 games in. He tried to come back too quickly, hurt it again and sat out until the final three postseason games.

Once considered a late first-rounder, his stock dropped, costing him maybe $1 million or more. It was primarily because of the lingering injury, but Katrina and the resulting traveling obstacles for scouting departments probably didn't help.

Orioles come calling

But the Orioles already had seen enough. They liked his strong arm and quick bat, and when he fell through the first and supplemental rounds, the club grabbed him with the 58th overall pick.

Adams considered taking LSU's scholarship offer and rebuilding his draft stock. But he really wanted to play pro ball, so he signed for a $675,000 bonus, was sent to Rookie-level Bluefield, W.Va., and recently was promoted to short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

He'll be riding buses for countless hours over the next few years, playing in small towns dotting the East Coast. But that's fine. Adams said he'll adapt and move up.

Because now he believes he can ride out any storm.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad