Hi friends. I’m cheating this week, offering a sneak peek of the opening paragraphs of the next New Bayou Book. The first “inning” of that book will be posted here, for free and along with the audio, very soon. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you think.
Also, before I let you go, I wanted to let you know that I also started a newsletter on Substack. The essays there are more personal in nature. It’s free, of course.Jason P. Reed
Baseball had always been a kind of sanctuary for Colton Lacombe. Once he stepped onto the field, especially when he stood in the chalked rectangle of the batter’s box, ready to pounce on the first good pitch, the outside world couldn’t fuck with him. He was in control.
It had been that way since he was 12 years old. The ball field was a refuge, the one place with a set of rules that some asshole adult couldn’t change on a whim.
It didn’t take a genius to see that the chaos of his parents’ divorce played a role in the way Colton came to need the game. But that realization only came later, once he was in high school with an ornery streak and something to lose. As a kid, it was just baseball. Every afternoon and every weekend, any way he could get it. Colton played, got better, and eventually distinguished himself as one of the best young prospects around Lake Charles, Louisiana.
He progressed faster than his peers because he needed the game more.
But it was more than just a game. And all that practice, which really wasn’t anything more complicated than a bright, athletic boy insulating himself from the harsh realities of life . . . well, it paid off. By his senior year, the college scouts were circling.
But then he landed in jail, and the one possibility of a future evaporated, just like that.
Or at least, that’s what he believed all through the dark months leading up to his incarceration and those first anxious weeks in jail when there was nothing like hope to cling to. Only fear. Anxiety.
The symbolism wasn’t lost on Colton. He was down to his last strike. He’d been picked up on suspicion twice before and managed to talk his way out of it. But when three cop cars came out of nowhere just as he and two new associates with suspended licenses, outstanding warrants, and a taste for cheap speed pulled away from a house they had no business at, in a neighborhood where white people only went for one reason,
Colton knew it was his third strike. There would be no talking his way out of this shit.
Things could’ve gone either way. He might’ve just leaned into the hard lessons that parish jail–the minor leagues of criminal prospects–had to teach, if it wasn’t for Coach Bo. His old high school coach and mentor, the only adult male Colton ever called Sir or bothered to listen to, pulled off what Colton could only see as a miracle. Somehow, he talked LSU Eunice into offering a walk-on scholarship, and then convinced the judge to let him out in time for the start of the season.
It wasn’t just the nicest thing anyone had ever done for Colton. It was really the only thing, at least of that caliber. You couldn’t exactly compare the treats his mom occasionally brought home—a twelve-pack of Dr Pepper or a jumbo pack of sunflower seeds—to something like this.
Colton actually opened the letter from LSUE right there in the Calcasieu Parish jail.
It had a handwritten note from the renowned Coach Gene Larson, the fat and fiery head coach for the Bengals. The man was night and day different from Coach Bo, who still carried that folksy, black way of speaking ingrained in every sugar-cane progeny of old-school sharecroppers from North Louisiana.
Coach Terrance Bo was a wise and wary black man, a product of the Jim Crow South, careful with his words. Larson at LSUE was his well-known opposite. The LSUE legend was red and ruddy—a hard-charging, bombastic son of a bitch always ready to mix it up.
The envelope from LSUE contained a brochure about the baseball program, a bunch of forms, and a folded note from Coach Larson himself.
“Consider this your get out of jail card,” it read, “but it won’t be for free.”
And then, “Prepare to work your ass off.” Below the scribbled signature, a P.S., “Don’t drop the soap.”