Each spring gives us the chance to survey the landscape of baseball diamonds for new and returning players and coaches. One familiar name that has been around New Orleans area playground, high school and college fields for the past sixty years is the Wineski family.
If there was such an honor as the “first family of New Orleans baseball”, the Wineskis would surely be one of the finalists for it. They are an accomplished group of relatives who have shared a passion for baseball spanning three generations. Altogether there are nine Wineski baseball players that originated from the New Orleans area, including several who are still active in the game.
Lou Wineski Jr., who died in 2010, began this family tree that developed a baseball heritage, going back to his high school days at Holy Cross in the mid-1950s. He had three ball-playing sons, Lou III, Bobby, and Ray. They then produced a third generation of diamond players, including Lou III’s two sons, Paul and Ben; Robert’s two sons, Robert and Daniel; and Ray’s son, Peyton.
Growing up in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, Lou Jr. was an all-prep and all-state baseball player for Holy Cross High School (1955 graduate) before attending Loyola University on a baseball scholarship, where he obtained his degree in secondary education in 1961.
Lou Jr. taught and coached at Holy Cross before eventually owning and operating a furniture store in Chalmette. He was a long-time volunteer coach in recreational sports in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. His leadership led to the founding of the Holy Cross Athletic Association of which he was the first president.
The three sons of Lou Jr. learned to play baseball through their involvement at the playground with their father. According to Ray, “There was a trickle-down effect from one brother to the next, as to how we became familiar with the game. ”When asked about whether a competitive spirit existed among the three brothers, Lou III offered, “We were far enough apart from each other in age that we really didn’t have that much competition among us on organized teams.” Their father didn’t push them to participate in baseball, but Lou III made note of the fact that it was an era before video games, and the entertainment options were more limited at the time. Besides that, they liked hanging out at the playground with dad.
Lou III (1977 graduate), Bobby (1984 graduate), and Ray (1987 graduate) followed in their father’s footsteps by playing high school baseball at Holy Cross.
In 1977 Lou III played for the Holy Cross-based American Legion team that was state champion. He also played for the New Orleans Boosters in the 1978 national AAABA tournament in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where they came within one out of winning the championship against Detroit in a 12-inning game. Lou III recalls facing pitcher Orel Hershiser in the tournament, who went on to an 18-year major league career that included a Cy Young Award in 1988 as the National League’s best pitcher.
Ray remembers the entire family travelling to the tournament in Johnstown. Coincidentally, it was a return trip for their father, who had played on the 1956 Boosters team that finished in third place in the national competition.
Lou III received a scholarship to play baseball at Nicholls State University. The middle infielder was nominated as an All-American candidate in 1980 and became the team’s MVP in 1982. He had an opportunity to sign as a non-drafted free agent with the major league Philadelphia Phillies organization, but opted not to pursue a pro career.
Ray missed his high school graduation ceremony due to playing in the high school state finals for Holy Cross against Rummel. He appeared in a Louisiana state-wide all-star game at Alex Box Stadium on the LSU campus during his senior year. He earned a scholarship to play baseball at Tulane University from 1987 to 1990. Ray recalls that when he was being recruited by Tulane, Coach Joe Brockhoff acknowledged the Wineski family’s background in New Orleans area baseball. Also an infielder, Ray played on Tulane teams that appeared in NCAA regional tournaments in Baton Rouge and Tallahassee. He was a teammate of such players as Tookie Spann and Gerald Alexander, who went on to professional careers.
Lou III and Ray followed in their father’s footsteps again, this time as coaches at the high school level. Lou III is in his 30th year as a coach, currently at Holy Cross, where he has spent most of his career. He has also coached at De La Salle and St. Martin’s. Ray is in his fourth year at Fontainebleau High School in Mandeville, after having worked as a territory manager for Shaw Industries.
The third generation of Wineskis includes Lou Jr.’s five grandsons who didn’t fall far from the baseball family tree.
Lou III’s two sons, Paul and Ben, continued the Wineski tradition of playing baseball at Holy Cross. Paul graduated in 2003, played two years at Delgado Community College, and then finished at Nicholls State. Ben graduated from Holy Cross in 2005, but did not pursue baseball further. Paul also continued the Wineski coaching tradition and is currently at Riverside High School.
Bobby moved his family away from New Orleans in 2001, and his sons, Robert and Daniel, wound up playing high school baseball in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Their 2007 team won the state championship. Robert received an academic scholarship to Harvard University, where he played baseball. Daniel competed for Gulf Coast Community College for two years before graduating in 2015 from the University of Southern Mississippi on a baseball scholarship.
Ray’s son, Peyton, played high school baseball at Fontainebleau, where he graduated in 2015. His team won a district championship during his junior season. He is the latest edition of the Wineski baseball family to play at the college level, as a freshman for Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Alabama.
As is often the case for many fathers, the Wineskis were often the coaches of their sons on area playground teams. But it wasn’t until they found themselves having to coach their sons at the high school level that it became somewhat awkward. Lou III, coaching Paul and Ben at Holy Cross said, “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.” Similarly, Ray coached Peyton at Fontainebleau. Ray remarked about the situation, “It was sometimes hard to separate the coach and dad responsibilities.” However, both coaching fathers said they were fortunate their sons’ talent took over on the field, making it easier to avoid favoritism situations with respect to their teammates.
One of the other common links on the baseball diamond across the three generations of Wineskis was the influence of the Scheuermann coaches from New Orleans. Legendary baseball coach Rags Scheuermann was Lou Jr.’s college coach at Loyola, and he also coached Lou Jr. and Lou III on their respective New Orleans Boosters tournament teams. Rags’ son, Joe, the highly successful coach at Delgado, coached Paul Wineski during his two seasons at the community college. Furthermore, Joe was an assistant coach at Tulane when Ray played for the Green Wave.
When asked whether he thought family genes had much to do with the family’s tradition of playing baseball, Lou III remarked, “I’m sure it did. You have to have a special talent to play the game at a high level. But the baseball environment we grew up in also contributed to our being able to play at those levels.”
The Wineski family has hopes that a fourth generation of baseball players is in the works. Paul and Daniel recently celebrated the births of their sons.
The Wineskis are one of several prominent baseball families from the New Orleans area. Long-time followers of local baseball will remember other names such as Gilbert, Staub, Butera, Cabeceiras, Graffagnini, Hughes, Pontiff, Schwaner, Whitman, and Zimmerman. The website http://www.thetenthinning.com/articles.html has an extensive list of over 1,200 players from high schools in the New Orleans area that went on to play at college or pro levels.