Fan fever high as No. 1 Cajuns take on Ole Miss

With the No. 1 ranked University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns baseball team one series away from punching its ticket to the College World Series, a line of frenzied fans decked out in red and black anxiously waited outside the Cajundome’s box office Friday to receive their tickets for this weekend’s best-of-three battle against Ole Miss at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

“I’m very, very excited,” said season ticketholder Matthew Suisse as he waited in line. “I’ve been having season tickets for about five years now, and this is why I come.”

Suisse has lived in Lafayette for seven years after moving from Michigan and has rooted for his new home team every year since.

Thomas Richardson, another ticketholder and “born-and-raised” Cajun fan, has attended games for the past eight years.

“We’re going all the way!” he exclaimed.

RVs, trucks, barbecue pits and cooking trailers surrounded the “Tigue” — some, like tailgating crew Cajun Tails, arrived as early as Tuesday to set up.

Standing proudly next to Cajun Tails’ red cooking trailer was the crew’s boss, Mike Strong.

“We got a whole hog, a 150-pound hog, four briskets and six Boston butts, along with all the sides and refreshments that go with it,” he said.

Strong, a UL-Lafayette alumnus and local insurance broker, said he’s been a Cajun fan his entire life, holding season tickets for multiple sports for more than 25 years.

His crew has been cooking for the team and its opponents for almost as long.

“We have a good group; we have about 50 members,” he said. “We also include the parents that circulate through the baseball program. We like to have a good meal for (the team) every Saturday of a home series. A lot of them bring food and like to participate. It’s a good time.”

One of those parents, Bruce Lambin, of Texas, decided tailgating with Cajun Tails a couple times a year wasn’t enough. He and his wife now rent an apartment to watch their team during the spring.

“We said, ‘Hey, we’ll just take an apartment in Lafayette for the baseball season and party with those crazy Cajuns and then go back to Houston and check into rehab,’ ” Lambin said.

Lambin’s son, Chase Lambin, played shortstop for the Cajuns and was drafted by the New York Mets in 2002. At 34, he still plays minor league ball, and even spent a season playing in Japan.

“It’s just fabulous,” Bruce Lambin said of the team’s success. “Coach Robichaux does a wonderful job, and he’s brought in a bunch of kids that have really bought in. It’s going to be an exciting run.”

In Robichaux’s 20th season with the team, his squad, at 57-8, is currently the NCAA’s No. 1 college team in the nation — the first time for any UL-Lafayette athletic program.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Strong said. “The last couple years have been phenomenal. I think the Cajuns are making a name for themselves on a national basis; that just makes it more exciting for us as fans.”

Strong said he’s always wanted to go to Omaha, Nebraska, to watch the College World Series but never had the chance until this season. He booked his tickets in January.

“If my Cajuns come with us, that’d just be the icing on the cake,” he said.

As for his team’s chances against Ole Miss this week, Strong remained confident.

“Ole Miss is good, but we have the home-team advantage,” he said. “We’re used to playing on the turf. The energy level is going to push them to victory.”

That energy level, Strong said, has had a tremendous effect on the field.

“You can see the reaction on the boys when the chants start,” he said, mimicking the crowd’s “Ragin’ Cajun” chant. “I really think it affected Mississippi State. Their all-American closer looked like he was totally rattled. No doubt in my mind that the Cajun fans had something to do with that.”

The university’s Red Zone apparel shop began selling super regional game shirts Friday morning, and employee and UL-Lafayette alumna Laci Prejean said the on-campus outlet expects to sell out of them quickly. Prejean said the store hopes to supply the field with a sea of red to dwarf Ole Miss’ blue.

“We just got them in this morning, so we hope to sell most of them today and into tomorrow before the game,” she said. “Anything red that says ‘Ragin’ Cajuns baseball’ on it is what we’re trying to sell mostly.”

The Red Zone has seen a lot of business lately with the success of Cajun baseball, Prejean said.

Along with the Red Zone’s merchandise trailer, the university plans to set up big-screen televisions and a portable video board outside the field for those unable to secure tickets.

“I think the stadium’s going to be at maximum capacity,” Cajundome Director of Ticket Operations Matt Casbon said. “It’s hard to say an exact number, but we’re going to make it as full as we can make it.”

Tickets for this weekend’s showdown were sold out, he said.

“Fans are coming from everywhere,” he said. “They’re coming from out of town; players are coming back.”

The Cajuns hit the field at 7 p.m. Saturday against the Rebels, and then again at 8 p.m. Sunday, with a possible third game at 6 p.m. Monday.