Baseball: Babineaux – He is UL Baseball
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 7, 2014
There have been a lot very happy and awfully proud people at Tigue Moore Field throughout the season.
And why not?
The 2014 UL Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t run from lofty preseason expectations. Instead, they turned them into a multitude of record-setting performances, into the No. 10 attended program in the nation and the program’s first NCAA nation seed at No. 6.
But as the fans, coaches and players were unleashing emotions Cajun-style after Monday’s dramatic 5-3 win over Mississippi State to advance to the Super Regional, no one was any happier or had more pride in what had been achieved than UL associate head coach Anthony Babineaux.
In so many ways, Babineaux is Tigue Moore Field. He is UL baseball.
Before UL played in its first NCAA Regional in 1988, Babineaux was playing American Legion baseball for the Guaranty Bankers at Tigue Moore Field.
When the Cajuns’ program enjoyed its first NCAA Regional success – making the 1991 Baton Rouge Regional finals with wins over Northwestern State 11-7, South Alabama 6-3 and Texas A&M 13-10 – Babineaux was in the dugout as a freshman.
By his sophomore season at UL, the Cajuns became further entrenched in the sport by capturing the program’s first at-large berth in NCAA play in 1992.
As he transitioned from playing to being a graduate assistant in 1994-95, Babineaux played a role in the program getting through NCAA probation into the Tony Robichaux era.
By the time he became a full-time assistant coach, the Cajuns had become a perennial powerhouse with NCAA Regional berths five times in six seasons from 1997-02, highlighted by the school’s first College World Series appearance in 2000.
So when Babineaux was faced with the challenge of doing the post-game radio interview after Monday’s win, he warned play-by-play broadcaster Jay Walker that he might not making it through the interview without being emotional.
"Jay told me, ‘That’s perfectly alright’," Babineaux said. "I did get through it, but I was just so proud. I know all the hard work that’s gone into this program getting to that point. I know what it means to the city and to the fans here."
In fact, Babineaux goes back even farther than even being an American Legion player performing on the field during the summer.
"Before I got here (as a coach), there was no difference between me and the fans in the stands, because I was one of them," he said. "I was one of those fans in the stands here before I became a player and a coach. I was in the stands watching Ben McDonald beat Donne Wall, rooting on the Cajuns."
The roles have changed over the years, but there’s basically been a love affair between Babineaux and UL baseball for three decades now.
"The program wouldn’t be where it is if it wasn’t for Bab," said former Cajun player Matt Pilgreen, whose time at UL began in 2002 until he graduated in 2007 and now owns season tickets even though he works and lives in Houston.
"He is Ragin’ Cajun baseball. Obviously, coach Robe (Tony Robichaux) is the face of the program, but Bab has been right by his side the whole way. He has Robe’s ear at all times."
Babineaux’s senior season was 1994. Robichaux took over a program banned from postseason play and a scholarship short the next season … but with an eager student assistant named Babineaux.
Going into that first fall out of eligibility, the reserve infielder known more for his ability to play defense and bunt when needed, Babineaux asked his future boss if he could stay around as a student assistant coach.
To this day, Babineaux still recollects the scare Robichaux put into him with his initial response.
"He told me that he was going to take a look at everybody and get back with me," Babineaux said. "In my mind, I was ‘Get back with me might mean that it’s not going to happen.’ "
Eventually, there was a meeting between Robichaux and two of Babineaux’s teammates Steve Gurtner and Lee Cantrelle, where the coach explained that he’d observe them in the fall and make a call on who would be the first-base coach and who would fill other roles.
"When we left that meeting, my mentality was that it was going to be me coaching first base," Babineaux said. "So I busted my chops that fall to show them how much I wanted it."
Babineaux knew he "didn’t know enough yet to be an integral part of the decision-making process" just yet, but so he did whatever was necessary.
One of the first things introduced to him was a new mowing machine. Babineaux quickly owned that job.
Sport Voorhies, who both played for, coached with and coached against Babineaux (in Legion ball), during his year around the program, including as a graduate assistant in 2005, grew to respect his friend.
"I learned so much from Bab," Voorhies said. "When got came back in 2005, he took the time to teach me.
"Bab’s been through it all. He was there when Robe got there, he’s been through the down times and in the good times like right now. When he was coaching third, he was an amazing third base coach. He’s a huge part of the recruiting process. He’s done it all. He has his hand in everything."
Voorhies remembers Babineaux instructing him to dig 12 holes behind the infield, so they could vaccuum water into buckets to get the field ready to play.
Much like this past Monday night, no one was happier than Babineaux when Tigue Moore Field was transformed into artificial turf.
"He has such a sense of pride in that program," said Travis Guidry, who is a longtime Babineaux friend and cousin of catcher Michael Strentz. "He’s been so dedicated to the program. He’s had other offers. He could have left, but he never has. He’s a lifer. He’s the heart and soul of this program."
But while his duties have ranged from recruiting to mowing grass to handling the travel, scheduling and various money issues for the program, perhaps Babineaux’s biggest value to the program over the years is his relationship with the players.
"I think he’s always been the go-to guy for the players," said his wife Joni Babineaux, the former Joni Podhorez who played centerfield for the UL softball team from 1995-98.
"They’ve always trusted him."
Pilgreen was one of those players.
"The players just love him," he said. "He’s definitely a player’s coach. If you’re going through a slump, he’s the coach you go to. He’s the coach who gets players through their struggles and their successes on the field. He believes in them."
Part of the reason why Babineaux has successfully been able to wear so many hats over the years is his wife. As a former athlete, Joni Babineaux understands travel, teamwork and the sacrifices necessary to be successful, not to mention what it’s like to win and lose.
"(After a game) I know when to talk and when not to talk," Joni Babineaux said.
"Actually, sometimes when we come home after a game, she’s more upset than I am," Anthony Babineaux laughed. "She still has that same determination she had as a player."
And therefore gets the grit and dedication her husband must have,
"She understands the time constraints," he said. "If we have dinner plans and a coach calls about a really good pitcher who is throwing in Lake Charles at 6 o’clock, he knows that I have to go."
Joni said the toughest aspect of their family life these days are the conflicts between being mom and coach in soccer and softball for their daughters – Brooklyn 9, Sydney 6.
So while many have likely overlooked Babineaux’s contributions to the program over the years, especially now that he’s tucked away in the dugout these days, the former Carencro High standout is content with the respect he’s earned from family and friends.
"When I’m out in the community and friends tell me that they respect the job I’m doing, that makes be feel good, because I know that a lot of people are behind me," Babineaux said. "I know that I have the support of that community."
Babineaux only wishes that M.L. "Tigue" Moore himself was still here to witness that support and all the success that its brought to the program. Babineaux is one of many products of the emphasis Moore personally placed on high school and Legion programs in this parish, long before they named the field after him.
"He (Moore) would have loved this," Babineaux said. "He would have loved the way the program is respected in the community. He would have loved the success on the field. But the biggest thing he would have loved was seeing all the hometown boys on this team.
"Mr. Moore was about opportunity for kids. I know, because I was one of those kids."