Locals campaign to name ESJ baseball complex in honor of Gerald Floyd “Ice” Williams

Published 12:19 pm Saturday, February 12, 2022

RESERVE — The River Parishes suffered a great loss this week with the passing of Gerald Floyd “Ice” Williams, an East St. John Wildcat turned professional baseball player who inspired countless young athletes through the years.

Hall of Famer Derek Jeter announced that Williams passed away at the age of 55 on February 8, 2022 following a battle with cancer. Williams’ 14-year career in the Big Leagues included stints with the New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and New York Mets.

Now, the St. John the Baptist Parish community is campaigning to name East St. John’s baseball complex in his honor.

Local educator Derron Cook said, once the measure receives approval from the School Board, the Gerald Floyd “Ice” Williams Memorial Baseball and Softball Complex will serve as a reminder that St. John Parish has always been great.

“Now it’s time to acknowledge the people who helped make us great and remember that we can always strive for more,” Cook said.

Being a graduate of East St. John, Cook said all of the younger kids were proud of Williams’ success story and strived to follow in his footsteps.

“We admired him. He was a community name,” Cook said. “With his passing, we can reflect back on a time when East St. John used to be this powerhouse of athletics where some of those guys went on to play in the pros. He was a positive role model who did not have a blemish on his record. What better person to name the baseball and softball complex after?”

Longtime LaPlace resident Damon Mason thanked Williams for paving the way for the youth in St. John Parish.

“Gerald Williams and Louis Lipps were the names we heard as kids in St. John Parish. The names of two individuals who graduated from East St. John High School and set the standard for us to strive for as young boys wishing, dreaming and praying for an opportunity to play professional sports,” Mason said.

East St. John alum Juan Watkins had a different connection to Williams. Rather than following in his footsteps, he was by his side every step of the way. The two shared a lifelong, unbreakable bond that began when they were only 3 years old, growing up four houses down from each other on W. Fourth Street in LaPlace.

Watkins was born on August 8, 1966, while Watkins was born two days later on August 10. They supported each other every birthday and through every stage of life.

From Little League through high school, they were side-by-side on the baseball diamond as Watkins played first base and Williams played second. They became roommates at Grambling State University after Watkins told coaches they were a package deal.

“I’m proud of all of his accomplishments because we laid the foundation down from day one. From the time we exited high school to when we entered Grambling State University, we started talking about our goals and where we wanted to end up in life,” Watkins said. “He said, ‘Soup, if you make it to the top, I made it. If I make it, you made it.’”

Watkins knew Williams was destined for fame from the time he hit a slew of home runs in the 1977 Little League World Series. During his sophomore year at Grambling, Williams grew into his potential. He had incredible speed and a cannon for an arm, and it was only a matter of time before his dreams would come true.

“In college, you have to go three years before you are eligible for the draft. It was just a matter of him waiting for his third year,” Watkins said. “I knew he was going to be drafted. It was destiny.”

Watkins was the first person who Williams called when he was drafted by the Yankees in the 14th round and when he made his professional debut in 1992. The lifelong friends talked daily through the years, sometimes two or three times a day. At the end of every phone call, Williams would say “peace in a land of confusion” before hanging up.

While the world knew of Williams’ accomplishments in the MLB, only a select few had the pleasure of knowing him on a personal level.

“Gerald was a very quiet and private individual. He didn’t talk much, but if he told you he was going to do something, it was going to get done. If he gave you his word, you could bank on it 100%,” Watkins said. “Gerald was a person who looked out for you before he looked out for himself. He was loyal. He was dedicated. He was committed.”

Providing for his mother was his biggest inspiration in his pursuit of Major League dreams. Even after making it big, Williams was never flashy with his earnings. No one would guess he was a professional athlete by the 2005 Lincoln Navigator parked in his garage. Yet, he was always classy. Watkins recalled how Williams would show up dressed in a full suit, even if he was only flying home for two hours to sign papers.

Williams never drank alcohol or smoked a cigarette. Watkins used to joke that if you were to cut him open, all that would come out would be freshly squeezed orange juice, pineapple juice and water.

When Watkins would call him for his birthday every year just after midnight, Williams would always answer on the first ring despite the time zone difference and tell him, “I was up waiting on your call. Now that I’ve talked to you, I can go to sleep.”

Watkins’ mother, Blanche Fernandez, knew Williams as a fine young man who was centered in Christ.

“I was proud to have him as a part of my family and to be involved with my son,” Fernandez said. “I always looked at him as a son because of the way that he treated me.”

Watkins said naming the baseball complex in honor of Williams would be an honor that would “take young kids to another level.”

“He was an outstanding citizen and an outstanding teammate here from Reserve, Louisiana. This is why we need to name this ball park here in Mr. Gerald Floyd ‘Ice Man’ Williams’ name,” Watkins said.

For more information on the campaign for the naming of the Gerald Floyd “Ice” Williams Memorial Baseball and Softball Complex at East St. John High, connect with Derron Cook on Facebook.