For Austin Robichaux and Tony Robichaux, nothing better than father-son time

LAFAYETTE — It all began when Austin Robichaux was a kid and claimed the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball dugout as a surrogate home.

As Robichaux watched his father, Tony Robichaux, coach college baseball, it was almost as if he could see his own future begin to unfold.

That perception has been so vivid, it has remained with him.

“Ever since I was little, I decided that wherever (Tony Robichaux) was going, I was going to go. It started when he was at McNeese and then seeing my brother (Justin) grow up and play for him, that made me want to play for him that much more,” Austin Robichaux said during Monday’s baseball media day held at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

Austin Robichaux is now in his third season as a UL-Lafayette pitcher, a Friday night starter who has struck out 109 batters in the 152.1 innings he has pitched for the Cajuns.

At the end of this season, Robichaux will be a potential major league draft choice who features a variety of pitches along with a family pitching legacy that runs deep.

As a veteran baseball coach, Tony Robichaux saw both the positive and downside of having sons who were both pitchers and wanted to play for him, but he’s satisfied the choices they made were entirely their own.

Austin Robichaux and his brother Justin were recruited by other schools, but they didn’t even take their official visits to other campuses.

“Once Austin and Justin started playing the game, I sat down with my wife and said we have to decide whether they are good enough to play (at UL-Lafayette). We can’t just ‘daddy ball’ this and patronize them and put them in a bad situation,” Tony Robichaux said.

“Both of them did the same. They came to me and said, ‘We want to play for you. If you leave (UL-Lafayette), take me with you.”

For Austin Robichaux, his father has always been his primary pitching coach, a situation that included some inherent benefits.

“When I got here, I know so much more and I think that took the pressure off me. I know some people might see it as playing for your father as a pressure thing, but having him teach me when I was real young has really helped me,” Austin Robichaux said.

“Then when I got here (to UL-Lafayette), it made me realize even more that this is what I wanted to do.”

Austin Robichaux said his decision to play for the Cajuns was solidified after watching brother Justin play for their father.

“I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps,” he said. “He always has been my role model. I will say that no matter what other people might tell you, playing for you dad is like no other experience.”

Tony Robichaux said he’s proud of the way his sons handled the college experiences.

“I think playing for me is tougher on them that it has been on me. I’m a grown man and I can handle it when someone hollers from the stands ‘daddy ball’ or ‘you’re only here because of your daddy,’ ” he said. “That’s tougher for them to handle than it is for me.

“Other than that, I can’t be prouder of the way they have handled it. You’re always worried about the DWIs and getting in trouble and having your father have to kick his son off the team. Then you also don’t want to make them try to do something three times better than someone else.”

His sons “matriculated” almost naturally into pitching without any emphasis from him, Tony Robichaux said.

“When I saw that, I decided if they wanted to pitch, we were going to do it the right way, so we started grooming them,” Robichaux said.

The preparation for college pitching included having his sons come to college pitching staff meetings on weekends and then having them study the pitching meeting handouts that were given to the players already at UL-Lafayette, Tony Robichaux said.

The coach said Austin Robichaux is ready to become a professional pitcher, even though the 6-foot-6 Austin Robichaux is listed at only 170 pounds to start the season.

“I think he’s ready and prepared if he wants to go. He has to add to his frame, but that’s the upside,” Tony Robichaux said. “Whoever gets him will get (Austin Robichaux) bigger and stronger. He will put on the weight and down the road. He will fill out.”

Coming out of Notre Dame High in Crowley three years ago, Austin Robichaux was drafted in the 50th round by the Cincinnati Reds.

Since then, Austin Robichaux said he’s developed a slider, curve and changeup to complement his four-seam and two-seam fastballs.

Whatever decision his son makes at the end of this season will be entirely unilateral, Tony Robichaux said.

“I’ve kissed him on the forehead at night and told him, ‘I don’t want you to play this because of me. This is your horse, and if this is what you want to do, then do it,’ ” Tony Robichaux said.

Of course, a lot will occur between now and the major league draft in June.

The Cajuns are ranked No. 14 in the Baseball America preseason poll and 23rd by Collegiate Baseball. Those rankings follow the No. 24 ranking by USA TODAY following last season’s 43-20 record.

One thing Austin Robichaux hopes might happen between now and then is a trip to the College World Series, where UL-Lafayette appeared in 2000.

If the Cajuns make it to Omaha, Neb., Austin Robichaux said that personally, he’ll feel like he accomplished a special mission.

“I saw the look on (my father’s) face back then (in 2000),” Austin Robichaux said, “and I want to help him get back there.”