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Archive for Monday, September 5, 2005

Kansas pitcher has eye on Katrina’s aftermath

September 5, 2005

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When pitcher Ricky Fairchild decided this summer to transfer to Kansas University for his final season of college baseball, he offered the same reason echoed by many an athlete who has decided to switch schools.

He simply wanted a change of scenery.

It turns out the school and the city Fairchild left behind never will look the same again.

Fairchild, a fifth-year senior and a native of Dallas, spent the first four years of his college career at Tulane University in New Orleans, graduating with a double major in finance and legal studies.

Now, just a few months later, he's among the untold number of Americans glued to their television sets and cell phones for the latest news in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which unleashed its fury on New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast last week. His former college is under water, as are the homes and businesses of many of his friends and their families.

"It seems like every camera shot I've seen on TV of New Orleans has been of a place I'm familiar with," Fairchild said late last week. "Obviously, all the pictures of the Superdome and the French Quarter : that's only two blocks from Tulane's campus. I was down there all the time for one reason or another."

In the last week, Fairchild has spoken by phone with a handful of former teammates now scattered across the Southeast, from Atlanta to Austin, Texas. The report from each of them is essentially the same - we're safe, but we're resigned to the fact that everything back home has been destroyed.

"The hardest thing for them is that they don't know, because they can't get in there," Fairchild said. "They just have to guess based on what they're seeing on the news."

The conversation that made the deepest impact involved a former teammate who grew up in St. Bernard Parish, an especially low-lying section of the city that's completely submerged.

"I called him, and he was just bawling the whole time," Fairchild said.

During his four years in the Big Easy, Fairchild learned what it's like to be on hurricane watch. He and his teammates were evacuated three times as the powerful storms threatened the area, while on another occasion he was among the city's residents who held their ground when the forecast predicted an incoming storm would not do heavy damage.

While repeated warnings that New Orleans was just one bad storm away from serious trouble left a deep impression on Fairchild - "I would hope that I would have had enough sense to evacuate" - he also said he sympathized with residents who decided to hunker down and attempt to ride Katrina out.

"I can understand why a lot of people wouldn't want to evacuate," Fairchild said. "It took my girlfriend seven hours to drive 60 miles to Baton Rouge (during a previous evacuation).

"It's such a miserable experience trying to get out of the city."

Fairchild also believes previous predictions of doom and gloom that never came true may have played a role in many residents' decisions to believe Katrina was simply the latest storm that ultimately wouldn't prove to be the "big one."

"To me, it either seems like a lot of people didn't take it seriously because of all the false alarms," Fairchild said, "or didn't have the means to get out."

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