Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Tony Robichaux and LSU head coach Paul Mainieri speak prior to a Feb. 25 game at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge. Robichaux brings his top-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns to Lake Charles, where Robichaux’s career got its start at McNeese State. New Orleans beat the Cajuns 8-7 Tuedsay night. (Paul Kieu / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 09, 2014 4:17 PMFor Tony Robichaux, a trip back to Lake Charles is food for thought, or maybe just food to think about.
“It is great to play over there,” said the head baseball coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“Our kids love playing there, too. They are promised a Darrell’s Special. We always make sure we stop there.”
The locally famous sandwich shop will get a chance to feed the nation’s top-ranked college baseball team when the Ragin’ Cajuns come calling tonight.
For Robichaux, it’s a personal trip back to where it all started. He began his career at McNeese State, where his team will take on the surging Cowboys at 6 p.m.
“It is a lot of fun to play those guys,” said Robichaux. “They have a very good team and their new coach (Justin) Hill is doing a great job. He has them headed in the right direction.
“This is no pushover. We got a lot of good baseball along the I-10. You don’t have to travel far off the interstate to get your butt beat if you don’t play well.”
Robichaux remembers the old wars his McNeese teams had with the then-hated Cajuns.
“When I was in college as a student or first coaching at McNeese, USL (ULL) was a vicious rival. Our fans, players, teachers all got into it.
“It was like that in all sports — football, basketball, baseball. We didn’t like each other.”
Since then, Robichaux says things have died down, though you can’t tell that by talk surrounding tonight’s game.
“We really want to beat them,” said McNeese junior Andrew Guillotte. “They are on top right now and it would be great to get them.”
It’s Robichaux who has put the Cajuns on top.
After spending eight years as the Cowboys’ skipper, posting a 263-117 record and two trips to NCAA regionals, Robichaux left for Lafayette in 1995.
“It was a hard decision for me,” he said. “McNeese meant so much to me. It is where I got started, where my family got started. It was a special place and will always have a spot in my heart.”
But he left because as he put it, “I thought we could get to Omaha if we went to Lafayette.”
Sure enough, and to the chagrin of Cowboys fans, he took the Cajuns to the College World Series in 2000. Now in his 20th season in Lafayette, Robichaux has posted a 704-460-1 mark there, including a 30-4 record after losing Tuesday night’s game against New Orleans.
Overall, he’s closing in on his 1,000th career victory at 967-639-1.
“He has a great program,” said Hill, who is in his first season at McNeese. “They do things right. You see how coach runs that program and it is something you have to admire.
“But we are going to get after them.”
Robichaux said he expects nothing else. In fact, he said Hill is the right guy for the Cowboys.
“I like what he is doing,” he said. “I have seen good things out of them this year. In a few years they could have things rolling.
“But it is harder now, because there is more competition out there for players. There is also more talent, you just have to find the right pieces.”
He sounds like a guy who thinks maybe the rivalry will once again heat up.
“It is different now,” he said. “We used to be in the same league and played a lot more often. Since then we have kind of gone on separate ways.”
That might not seem so tonight as McNeese officials said they are expecting a large and loud crowd.
“We think it will be a great atmosphere,” Hill said.
That will be nothing new to the Cajuns.
“We have set a high standard here,” said Robichaux, who has turned ULL into a national title contender this season. It is a long ways away from the days when he was just trying to get lights put up at Cowboy Diamond.
“Things are much different now,” he said. “There is more money invested in the facilities, more TV money coming in. It makes things tougher.”
Sounds as if Robichaux misses the old days when the game of college baseball was simpler.
Or maybe he just needs a good sandwich.
Posted By: msu 33 On: 4/10/2014
Wish I could be there, at the game that is, not at Darrells.