LAFAYETTE — It’s an anecdote that Tony Robichaux has used more than once, and it explains the drive for excellence that he still has after two decades as the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach.
It was minutes after the Ragin’ Cajuns had been eliminated from the 2000 College World Series by Stanford, following elimination-game wins over San Jose State and Clemson, and Robichaux had just completed the requisite postgame interview session that officially ended Robichaux’s sixth season as the Cajuns boss and the most successful season in the program’s history.
An NCAA moderator asked if Robichaux wanted the placard, an identifying name tag that sat in front of him during the Cajuns’ interview sessions all week, as a memento.
“No, thank you,” Robichaux said. “You keep it. We’ll be back.”
A decade and a half later, the biggest thrill that Austin Robichaux could imagine would be for his father to return to an Omaha, Nebraska, interview room, another placard with his name sitting on the table in front of his seat, his Cajuns back in the College World Series.
“I saw his face when he was there,” Austin Robichaux said of the 2000 trip to college baseball’s mecca. “To get him back there, that would mean so much.”
Of course, the youngest of the Robichaux boys would enjoy the trip also. And if the Cajuns are able grind their way through two weeks of NCAA regional and super regional competition, it’s likely Austin Robichaux will make a significant contribution to that effort.
The junior right-hander has been the Cajuns’ Friday starter all season, with the exception of a three-week stretch when he was recovering from tendinitis. His 7-2 record and 3.01 ERA was good enough for a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection despite missing three league weekends. He is part of a threesome of starters that take a combined 25-3 record and a 3.04 ERA in 40 starts into this weekend’s regional.
“He’s been very consistent all year,” Tony Robichaux said of his 6-foot-6 son, who figures to be a high selection in next week’s Major League Baseball draft. “We wanted to be really careful when he had the tendinitis, but he hasn’t had any kind of lingering soreness or anything like that.”
Tony Robichaux would be just as careful with any of his pitchers, even more since he is a rarity in college baseball in that he serves as his own pitching coach.
“You don’t know what goes on in his head sometimes,” Austin Robichaux said. “But when we’re out there, he treats me like any other player.”
That may come from experience. Tony Robichaux may have 10 NCAA tournament appearances and five Sun Belt Conference championships on his résumé, but if you ask him the most memorable part of his career, he doesn’t hesitate.
“I’m fortunate, the good Lord has blessed me to be able to coach both of my sons,” he said. “My first son (Justin), we made two regionals and won two championships with him. And now with Austin, there’s two championships, two regionals and a national seed. I can’t thank the Lord enough for what he’s done.”
Justin Robichaux was a key part of the Cajun program from 2007-10 as a pitcher and first baseman, compiling a 10-5 record with a 2.95 ERA. He also had 12 career saves, including a school-record nine as a sophomore in 2008.
Justin’s younger brother is 18-8 in his career. Couple those numbers with their father’s 6-1 pitching record in his one year in the Cajuns program in 1984, and they total 34 mound wins.
The father’s numbers as a coach are much more impressive. He became UL-Lafayette’s winningest coach 436 victories ago. His 990 career victories at UL-Lafayette and McNeese, where he coached eight years before coming to the Cajuns, means he has an outside chance at becoming the 19th active coach and the 52nd in NCAA Division I history to reach 1,000 career wins this year.
To do that, though, the Cajuns will have to make it to Omaha, and the NCAA will have to put his name on another placard for the interview room.
“He doesn’t just say stuff like that,” Austin Robichaux said of his father’s parting words in 2000. “This is the year he was thinking about when he said that. If there’s any year for us to do it, it’s right now.”