Katrina Survivor Takes On Pro Ball

If you think you had a rough year, talk to Jason Schwab and you'll slink away counting your blessings. Schwab, you see, is from Chalmette, La. which is 10 miles south of New Orleans. You say you didn't know there was anything south of New Orleans except the Gulf of Mexico. Actually, there wasn't much left of Chalmette after Katrina roared through.

The Schwabs not only lost the family home but also the house where Jason and his college roomate were staying. I mean everything went- the roof fell in, the foundation crumbled, everything inside wiped out. "I had on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, " Jason recalls. "That was all I was left with."

As for school, he attended the University of New Orleans and that, too, was severely damaged. So much so that it coudln't open for the fall semester so the students had to scatter to the winds to find a place to go. The baseball coach wantes to keep the team together so it was arranged that all would go to New Mexico State, which is where Jason and his teammates spent the fall semester.

Baseball- that's the salvation for Schwab and it certainly proved to be so at this time. Evenetually, New Orleans reopned for the spring term so they were able to get a season in. "We were a couple of weeks late, he says. "But that was nothing."

Certainly nothing compared to being a Katrina survivor. And Jason made up for lost time with a terrific season- batting leadoff, he still led the team in home runs with 10 while hitting .363 and stealing 28 bases in 34 attempts. Now, that's the kind of season that will get you All-Conference at the very least, right ?

Wrong, somehow they didn't vote Jason onto that honorary squad. "My coach tells me I was jobbed, " says Jason. "I kinda think I was, too."

So, how about pro ball's annual draft ? "I didn't think I'd get picked the first day but. maybe, the second, down a ways. The Marlins had talked to me a lot about drafting me but they didn't. Guess they got somebody else that hadn't thought they would or something."

No, the Marlins didn't call nor did anybody else despite those gaudy numbers. For Jason suffered from a handicap the scouts all bring up when he's discussed. He's only 5-9. "Too short, " he scoffs. "I've heard it all my life. I heard it out of high school and now out of college. Size shouln't matter; it's how you play the game that should."

But if no one called his name in the draft, the Dodgers wasted little time in inviting him to sign as a free agent. He did and is delighted to be with the Gulf Coast team as a result.

He hasn't found pro ball all that much different. "There's a lot of kids in this league that are just out of high school and used to looking at 82 mph fast balls so this can be tough on them. But in college, we only played weekends and you'd see a lot of pitchers who throw hard. Here, everybody can but I'm used to looking at that kind of pitching."

Back home, things are shaping up for the Schwabs. The family home is being rebuilt and will be ready for occupancy within a couple of months. And Jason ? "I'm hoping to get some more at-bats so I can show them what I can do. I know I can make it if I get the chance."

After getting through Katrina and its aftermath, he's certainly earned that opportunity.