The smile quickly fades when Dellucci talks about the current reality of his favorite spot, and the fact
that many properties have been condemned and demolished because they now pose a threat to public safety. A Web site for local Grand Isle property owners encourages regular monitoring to see if their property is included on such a list.
"I hear it's pretty bad off," Dellucci said. "That's the first piece of land I remember visiting."
On the one year anniversary of the hurricane that ravaged New Orleans, it still pains Dellucci to think about the area so close to his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. He chokes up recalling a day in October, when he returned to the region that had been pummeled by Katrina, then Rita.
Everywhere he looked, from New Orleans to out-of-the way towns that cameras never filmed, he saw lives ruined.
"New Orleans looked like a war zone 10 times over, and there were a lot of areas south that got hit harder.
This was one of the worst things I've seen in my life. I saw a waterline that was to the roof of the house, gigantic pine trees that were snapped like they were toothpicks. I'll never forget that. That made me appreciate what kind of storm that was. I can't imagine the feeling of seeing water rising. There are stories like that all the way down the Gulf."
"I look at the landscape that was destroyed, the trees, the coastline. That will never be back. When you see
400-year-old oak trees that have been uprooted, we'll never see anything like that again. Small barrier islands off the Gulf are gone, too, we'll never see that again. There's landscape here that's completely gone."
When Katrina hit, Dellucci's mother, sister, nephew and cousin were returning to Baton Rouge after visiting
him in Dallas, where he was at home with the Rangers. He stayed up all night monitoring the weather. It luckily didn't take long for him to find out they were safe, though there was a harrowing detail in which his grandmother evacuated before a tree smashed into her house.
A few days later, while standing in the outfield, he thought of a way to help, beyond donating to the
American Red Cross. He formed "Catch 22 For Blue," and created a Web site. There he sells
blue "Louisiana Lagniappe 22" bracelets. His charitable foundation aids victims. Dellucci wore No. 22 with the
Rangers and blue is the state color of Louisiana.
Catch 22 for Blue has raised more than $100,000 for several organizations, including the Louisiana State Troopers Association, Louisiana Disaster Relief Foundation and America's Wetland Foundation. Dellucci has made
personal visits since October, providing Thanksgiving dinners to relocated families. Last Christmas, he and his
girlfriend, Rachel Reynolds, brought toys to children evacuated to Port Arthur, Texas.
Those efforts are continuing.
"We realize there are still people in need," Dellucci said. "What I worry about is that once time passes, they become forgotten. Today, it's more important to help these people out. The charity is there to help them get back on track. Hopefully, we don't have to go through this all over again."
By this, Dellucci meant Hurricane Ernesto, the latest storm that he thought was headed for New Orleans. It has since veered off and was downgraded to a tropical storm. There are more hurricanes forming, and any of them could destory lives.
"The fear of a hurricane is something that you live with forever," Dellucci said. "People in that area have become used to it. The greater fear is the way everything was handled after the hurricane. The fear of getting back on their feet is greater than the hurricane. Here we are a year later and what is going on to protect people? What is going on to get their way of life back? I don't think it's a whole lot.
"From what I'm hearing, it's very disappointing where people are in their lives right now. Many are still
waiting on insurance money. They're not able to get back on track. A year later, I don't think they're prepared for another hurricane, and we have one that's coming up. That's hard to deal with."
Dellucci paused again, and thought of the people he's met over the past year, the heroes of the storm who have helped. In particular, he recalled meeting a Slidell, La., family who had lost their home.
"The father and son stayed behind and rescued nine people," he said. "They rescued them, fled to a home that
was built on stilts and rode it out. I've heard amazing stories about how they had to get in a boat and went around picking people off the roofs. I don't even want to know what they saw or what they went through. I saw the aftereffects and it was very disturbing. You see things, and you want to help as much as you can."
Through his efforts, and those of other hometown celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and John Goodman, Dellucci is confident that New Orleans can return to thriving area of diverse cultures and rich textures.
"What you'll see rising out of the ashes is the first 21st century community," said Chris Howard, Ryan Howard's older brother and the assistant athletic director at LSU. "The area may revive to the point where it becomes the next Dallas-Fort Worth."
Like the forever-changed New York skyline after Sept. 2001, Dellucci knows certain aspects of New Orleans
can never be the same.
"It's a culture that represents the South," he said. "It was more than just a city. It was a melting pot of differnt architecture. It was a melting pot of different nationalities coming together to make an unbelievable place to visit. That will never be the same. People who never had a chance to go down there and visit will never know what it was all about."
"It's like a gumbo. You have all these ingredients that you put together. You have okra, onions, bell
peppers, shrimp, crabmeat and oysters. You mix it together and you have a wonderful gumbo. But if you just try to
mix water and okra, or water and onions, it's not very appetizing."
Dellucci just hopes he can bring back a few more ingredients.