The Big Muddy and the Big Easy are getting together, and as the flood waters of the mighty Mississippi rolled inexorably south toward New Orleans, Brandon Gomes couldn't help but think back to the summer of 2005.
The Rays rookie right-handed reliever was drafted by San Diego in 2007 and was among four players traded to Tampa Bay in December for shortstop Jason Bartlett. Gomes, called up May 2 from Triple-A Durham, made his Major League debut -- two hitless innings -- the next night against the Blue Jays.
Gomes was a redshirt sophomore at Tulane when Hurricane Katrina's 125-mile-an-hour winds and 22-foot-high storm surge roared out of the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 29, 2005, and submerged the city, forcing students to evacuate the campus.
Gomes and three roommates had moved their stuff into an apartment several days earlier. "We got everything set up and went to sleep that night," he said, "and the phone woke me up. It was our coach [Rick Jones] saying 'You guys gotta get out of here.'
"Actually, it wasn't anything new. That was the third or fourth time we'd evacuated since I'd been at school. But until Katrina it was no big deal. It was almost laughable, like a couple of small rainstorms."
The players took off for Austin, Texas, as they always did in an evacuation "and didn't come back for a few months," Gomes said. "We missed the entire fall season so they took the team to Texas Tech. We spent the entire semester there. It was a perfectly normal semester other than being in Lubbock, Texas."
Teammate Tommy Manzella, a shortstop for the Oklahoma City Redhawks, the Astros' Triple-A team, was drafted by Houston two months before the hurricane hit. He was born and raised in Chalmette, La., about 30 minutes from the Tulane campus, and still lived in the home where he grew up. Most of the town, including Manzella's house, ended up about 15 feet underwater.
"It was crazy," Gomes said. "Tommy said it looked like a bomb went off in some places and then you'd see a remote control sitting on couch like nothing had moved. I can't even imagine what he went through.
"We got about eight feet of water. I got off pretty easy -- a couple of suits, my bed, CDs and stuff. One of my roommates had his guitar, his amps, his perennial iMac, and he brought like three days' worth of clothes.
"Now, looking back, we can joke about it. But at the time, it was rough because we'd evacuated a bunch of times before but never for more than a few days."
When the Green Wave returned to Tulane, Turchin Stadium was unplayable so the team played its home games 15 minutes away at Zephyr Field in Metairie, La.
"Other than that it was business as usual," Gomes said. "Classes were normal. It was just the fact of having to drive out to Zephyr instead of just walking to the stadium on campus."
Gomes lost a guitar of his own, one his father had made for him. Paul Gomes has been playing guitar for 35 years. He's in The Crowd, a band out of Brandon's hometown of Fall River, Mass.
"My dad made me a new one," Brandon said.
And how well does he play it? "Not very well," he said with a laugh. "I started playing in sixth or seventh grade, and I'm about as good now as I was then."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.