Wally Pontiff Sr. has been competing at something all his life. When he was a crafty, left-handed pitcher for Coach Skeeter Theard at Redemptorist High School and later for Coach Louis “Rags” Scheuermann at Loyola University New Orleans, Pontiff could keep opposing batters at bay with an array of specialty pitches that came at different speeds from 60 feet away.
And now, at 62, Pontiff is doing his best to keep Mother Nature off balance.
Except when it’s cold, five mornings a week, rain or shine, Pontiff drives to Pontiff Playground – the Metairie playground named after his late son, LSU star Wally Pontiff Jr. – to grind out his now-familiar routine of walking, jogging and pushups.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Pontiff – usually accompanied by friend Sam Zurik – walks two laps, runs five laps, walks five laps and then runs two laps, stopping to do a series of 200 pushups.
On Tuesday and Thursday, he’ll walk two laps, run three and so on, doing the pushups on the side. He also does light weights at home.
“Basically, I do at least 12 or 16 laps, but believe me, I’m not breaking any records,” Pontiff said. “While we’re jogging we can talk about different things – about the city or about the family or what’s going on in the community.”
The venue is no accident.
“I get to talk to Wally in the park,” Pontiff said, referring to his son, a star third baseman for LSU who died in 2002 after his junior in college of a congenital heart disorder. “It gives you tremendous peace of mind. It gives me a chance to meditate and pray for people. I get to think about who’s going to call me today. All that blends together.”
Pontiff still reveres the lessons he learned at Redemptorist from Theard, who was acknowledged as one of the best teachers in New Orleans sports history.
“Skeeter was one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Pontiff said. “He would always tell me, ‘Wally, the strong beat the weak, but the smart beat the strong. All you’ve got to do is out-smart the other guy.’ So I would do a lot of changing speeds and throw another pitch when they were looking for something else. I figured out how not to throw the ball too hard.”
In his junior season at Loyola, Pontiff played on a team that went 34-12, beating Tulane, LSU and Miami, but the team still didn’t get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The players developed a bond.
“Rags was a wonderful man, very family-oriented, and we did a lot of things together as a team,” Pontiff said. “All of our dates went with us to different functions together. We all stayed together, and we’re still friends.”
Loyola disbanded intercollegiate sports following that season, so Pontiff transferred for one year to the University of Miami, where he played for Hall of Fame Coach Ron Fraser.
“It was a great experience,” Pontiff said. “We went to the (NCAA) regionals and got beat in the finals to go the World Series. But we would draw 3,000 to 5,000 people. We traveled first class.”
Always wanted to work out
Pontiff was selected in the major league draft and made it as far as AA camp with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But he always knew after his playing days were over that he would try to stay in shape.
“It’s not easy to do it, but you don’t have to break any records,” Pontiff said. “I’ve always worked out. The hardest time to work out was when I had (young) children. When I was coaching, I used to run at 12 noon during lunchtime. That was when I was in my 30s. I couldn’t do that today.”
The hardest part for any senior trying to develop a workout schedule is to be realistic and committed, Pontiff said.
“The key to any workout program is realizing whether you are a morning person or a night person,” Pontiff said. “I’m a morning person. Once I get out of that bed and put my shoes on, I can accomplish it. But I don’t think anybody should be obsessed. I don’t want to miss a day, but if I do, it doesn’t bother me. The next day I’ll be out there. I don’t have any knee problems, and hopefully I won’t have to get any artificial limbs. I know my limits, and I know what I have to do in terms of eating properly. Everything works.
“It just gives you a good feeling to be out there sweating and loosening up and getting to talk. That gives you motivation. When I get to that park, I’m hoping to see Sam there because that’s easy on me.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.