By Kerri Cooke
It’s a sunny Friday afternoon when Natalie LeBlanc welcomes me into her impeccably beautiful two-story home. I am immediately struck by pristine white walls, the neutral colors of a tapestry depicting an egret, and an essential oil diffuser filling the house with a friendly aroma.
I am offered a seat at the dining room table next to a window with an impeccable view of the I-210 bridge. The reason I am here is to discuss mothers, their children and baseball.
Baseball is a subject that is inseparable from the occupants of the house; five-year old Jackson and three-year old Eli, Natalie’s two children, scamper around the living room as they play with foam bases, wooden bats and full-size baseball gloves.
Natalie’s mother, Nancy Perioux, who owns Pat’s of Henderson in Lake Charles with her husband, Ricky Perioux, arrives shortly after me and recounts in a thick Cajun accent some family history.
The Periouxs dated in high school before eventually moving to Lake Charles and starting Pat’s of Henderson, which is an expansion of the original restaurant that Perioux’s father Patrick Huval founded in Henderson, La., around 1952.
The Periouxs began their new life in Southwest Louisiana in 1979 with their two children, Kaysha and Nicholas. They later had two more children, Natalie and Lucas.
Pat’s of Henderson has been a resounding success and is one of the most popular seafood restaurants in the Lake Area. Under the careful eyes of the Periouxs, Pat’s has been going strong for nearly 40 years.
Perioux says that because she did not have an ordinary childhood, growing up with the constant struggle of her parents trying to establish a successful business, she knows the value of a warm home and strong faith while also acknowledging the importance of good education and a healthy work ethic.
Perioux, when it was time for her to have her own family, strove hard to provide her children, even as they grew up in a similar family business set-up, a happy and healthy home life. Perioux says that her daughter’s life today is something much better than she could have imagined many years ago.
Natalie is married to Wade LeBlanc, a Major League Baseball player currently signed with the Seattle Mariners. The couple began dating when they attended Barbe High School together.
LeBlanc recounts that she was never really into sports growing up, and could hardly even play catch, but that her husband always knew he wanted to become a professional baseball player.
LeBlanc tells me a defining moment in her husband’s life happened in seventh grade, when a teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. When the teacher heard that he aspired to be a Major League Baseball player, she laughed and said that the odds were against that ever happening.
After graduating from high school, Wade went on to play baseball for the University of Alabama, while Natalie attended LSU and eventually graduated with a degree in speech pathology. Wade was drafted in 2006, and the pair got married in 2007.
When asked if she had any idea what she was getting herself into when she decided to marry her husband, LeBlanc replies that she had no clue. She says that her life looks totally different than what she imagined it would be.
She used to dream of a stable life that was normal and predictable. There is safety in a run-of-the-mill 8-5 job. Natalie admits that she used to want to have a career, but life has taken a different course, and even though her life is not what she expected, she never feels that she is missing out on anything.
Natalie enjoys her life being a mom and traveling around the country to support her husband. She says that she used to not want children, but now that she has two of them, they are such an ingrained part of her that she can’t imagine life without them.
She adds that she realizes she has more opportunities now than she would have had if she followed a traditional career path, and that traveling can give a person a valuable form of education that can’t be received at a university.
Baseball season, which begins with spring training in February and can run through October if a team qualifies for the playoffs, dictates the schedule and pace of the LeBlanc’s lives. However, the bond between Natalie and Wade is defined more by family than the game of baseball.
Natalie says that her family has learned how to better appreciate the time they spend together, since they can often be separated due to work schedules. Their dedication to family and strong faith is the glue that keeps their home together.
Natalie emphatically stresses that she has learned from her mother how to be a strong figure in the home. Since Natalie’s father was often at work in the restaurant, her mother had to fill the role of both mom and dad at times.
Natalie realizes that this is one of the challenges and sacrifices that come with owning a business and not following a normal career path. In fact, she is aware that her childhood experiences have prepared her for the life she leads today. Now, when her husband is absent, she has the strength to take charge of her family and understands the sacrifice is worth it in the end.
However, things have not always been easygoing. Natalie gives a lot of credit to the wide support system in their family. She says that there have been many times when she and her husband thought that his baseball career was over. But there has always been something to resurrect it.
Wade was going through a rough patch in his career when his first son, Jackson, was born. He decided that he did not want his kids to play baseball. As fate would have it, though, at 18 months, Jackson began hitting a baseball off of a tee. He has ended up loving the game in spite of his father’s doubts.
Natalie says that seeing his son take an interest renewed Wade’s love for baseball, and that Jackson regularly watches baseball games on ESPN, studies the sport and practices just about every day, since he has a special space to practice in any time he wants to.
When the LeBlancs were building their house last year, they were trying to decide whether to install a pool in the backyard. They took into account the family passion and ended up creating a small baseball field for their boys instead. Every day when Jackson and Eli get home from school, they go play on their own personal baseball field.
While Natalie says that she cannot say that Jackson is a better baseball player than other children his age, she does know he is obsessed with the game and faithful to practice. She recounts the story of something that happened when her husband was playing for the New York Yankees not too long ago. Jackson was put on a tee-ball team for 5- and 6-year-olds. His team was named the Red Sox, and he cried over it for the longest time because he felt he could not play for any team that happened to be a big rival of the Yankees.
The LeBlancs’ second son, Eli, is still a bit young for baseball, and doesn’t talk about playing in the big leagues like his older brother Jackson. But he still follows his dad and his brother in their love of the game.
While Natalie says she was never interested in baseball when she was growing up, she has since learned to appreciate the game and the valuable life lessons it can teach. Baseball, she shares, is a “game of failure.”
She explains that even if a player has a good batting average, they are still striking out more times than they are making it to a base. Baseball teaches a person how to “get back up and be resilient.”
Natalie is happy that her kids are interested in a sport that challenges their minds and bodies while giving them plenty of outside time. She prefers that they play outside rather than stay indoors playing on gaming systems. She even gets out on the field sometimes and plays with Jackson and Eli with her baseball glove, a gift from her husband, monogrammed with Proverbs 31:28.
Natalie says her ultimate goal as a mother is to make sure her children are happy. She sees it as her duty to keep encouraging them to have a fulfilling life. She notes that education is very important in life. But being a good person is the most important accomplishment a person can achieve.
Natalie credits the strong women in her life who form a support group to keeping her and her family successful even in challenging times. She credits Janis Leblanc, her mother-in-law, with helping her husband reach his potential. Also, Menola Zeno, who is like a second mother to her and fills many roles, such as nanny, family friend and kitchen manager at Pat’s of Henderson, is a very important figure in her life.
Perioux, Leblanc and Zeno form what Leblanc calls a “mom team.” These three women have supported and continue to support her and her husband over the years by traveling to baseball games in San Diego, Miami and even Japan; watching their kids when they are out of town; and continually praying for their safety and success. LeBlanc says that success “takes a village and a whole lot of prayer warriors.”
Also, Natalie credits her husband with being an awesome dad and husband, staying humble and putting his family before his career. She says that if she asked her husband to quit baseball, he would do it in a heartbeat.
Even though she knows all the sacrifices that have been made for her husband’s career, Natalie says it has been really special to watch her husband’s dream come true. She has seen his struggles to get to where he is today and admires his perseverance. Her observation and sharing in his discouragements has made her appreciate the good times all the more. She says her husband is a great role model. He is proof to their kids that if you have a dream you believe in, you can make it happen.
Natalie knows the importance of family and a strong support system, but she also acknowledges the role that faith has in keeping her and her family grounded. She cites her mother as having an “obnoxious amount of faith,” which she is quick to add is meant in a very positive way. She says her mother has provided such a strong and supportive example for her that she has big shoes to fill in her role as a mother.
Natalie says that her mother has been the “perfect example of warmth and heart and how a home should be,” and she hopes she can provide a similar environment in which her own kids can flourish.
As I am led out of the house, I think about how Natalie and her mother are examples of two extraordinary women doing their best to support their families. The sacrifices they make are not always obvious to the outside world.
Strangers often see success without realizing the hardships an individual has gone through to reach the bright horizon. I got a glimpse of both, and a revelation of how one mother’s care can impact more than one generation.