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Baseball: Embracing the grind – Cajuns do what it takes

Jesse Lanclos, Special to the Advertiser, June 4, 2015



UL players celebrate on the field after a walk-off run was scored by infielder Joe Robbins (12) off of a walk by designated hitter Tyler Girouard (9) with bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning to give the team the 2-1 victory over the Houston Cougars during an NCAA regional baseball game at the University of Houston in Houston, Tx., Sunday, May 31, 2015.(Photo: Paul Kieu, The Advertiser)



As fans, we never know what goes into a baseball season. We see the end and judge success or failure by how far we advanced.

We don’t see the effort, heart and sacrifice that goes into something as astonishing as 58 wins in a college baseball season. Or five wins in four days to win a championship. Or back-to-back improbable NCAA tournament comebacks that make the nation’s jaws drop.

We see that overcast, muggy night when a group of Rebels came into the Tigue and stole our golden ticket to Omaha.

So I can’t define what a grinder is.

I wasn’t there for the 6 a.m. practices, or the 6-minute miles or the 900-mile trip home from Boone, North Carolina, after dropping 2 of 3 from the last place team in the Sun Belt with final exams waiting back home.

I didn’t spend hours hunched over illegible course notes on impossible-to-understand subjects, on an endless bus ride from Arkansas, after two heartbreaking walk-off defeats in a single day.

If you want a dictionary definition, I can’t give you one. I’m not in the weight room, in the classroom, in the dugout, in the bullpen, or on the training table getting treated for those injuries.

Here’s what I can tell you: These guys love each other. When you love each other, you’ll do whatever it takes to stay together.

When the post-season comes, that’s what’s at stake: a little more time together, doing what you love to do together.

In the post-game presser after advancing to face LSU in this year’s Super Regional, coach Tony Robichaux got choked up. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I wonder how many even noticed it.

"He would have pitched on Father’s Day in Omaha."


UL’s Jace Conrad (19) and Blake Trahan (4) show their emotions after UL’s 10-4 loss to Ole Miss in the third game of the 2014 NCAA Division I Super Regional baseball tournament Monday, June 9, 2014, at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field in Lafayette, La. (Photo: Leslie Westbrook, The Advertiser)

Robichaux reflects on that team that won 58 games, yet fell one short of the field of dreams. His son was on that team. He would have pitched on Father’s Day in Omaha.

Robe wasn’t choked up over what he missed out on. He was choked up because he feels he let his Ragin’ Cajun family down. He blames himself for a pitching change he wishes he’d made in that deciding defeat.

He replays the sequence over and over again in his mind, reliving every agonizing moment. Because it wasn’t just his son. The hopes and dreams of people he cared deeply about were on the line.

He blames himself for letting his grinders down.

That’s the culture here. It’s not about ERA, wins and losses or batting average. It’s about loving each other enough to fight for each other.

With a three-run lead in the opening game of this year’s conference tournament, the Cajuns only needed to squeeze one more out to advance. But the unthinkable happened. A routine pop fly dropped to the ground, opening the floodgates.

Another error and four runs later, the Cajuns were sent to the losers’ bracket in an embarrassing defeat.

Less than 12 hours later, the season on the line, the Cajuns fell behind 5-1 in the first inning.

Nobody pointed at Clem, who dropped the pop-up. Nobody pointed at the mound. Nobody slouched or pouted. These boys just went back to work.


They could have folded it up. They refused. They responded. Because they loved each other enough to lift each other up.

Four days and five games later — after a grueling 12-inning affair in the decider — they were crowned champions.

But they were champions long before that day. Because they’re grinders.

What’s a grinder?

Someone like Greg Milhorn. A weekend starter and a top arm this team relied on.

Oblique strain. Groin injury. Life isn’t always fair.

Robe didn’t give up on him, though. Neither did his team. Robe kept running him out there in big games and kept having to get him out before the game spun out of control.

But Milhorn’s a grinder.

Somehow, he found something in himself to fight and claw his way back on the mound on the big stage. With the season on the line, he kept the conference’s best hitting team off the scoreboard until his grinders could break through and survive.

What’s a grinder?

UL pitcher Evan Guillory hurls a pitch during the Ragin’

UL pitcher Evan Guillory hurls a pitch during the Ragin’ Cajuns’ game against Texas-Arlington in Game 10 of the Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament. (Photo: File/The Advertiser)

With the season on the line, Wyatt Marks gave up 5 runs in the 1st inning. He only recorded one out. He didn’t let that moment define him, and his team of grinders didn’t lose their trust in him.

Two days later, Marks gutted out two saves to keep his team alive, fighting together, responding together with their backs against the wall.

Because he’s a grinder.

They call you "special" when you have three or four guys like that. Louisiana has a dugout full of guys like that.

When you trust each other, respond together and refuse to let the moment define you, you can accomplish magical things no one could have imagined.

That’s no fairy tale. I’ve seen it play out two years in a row.

I’ve seen a team love each other too much to turn on each other. I’ve seen a team care too much for each other to pack it in and head for summer ball. I’ve seen a family, committed to writing their own story together.

These guys may not be the nation’s darlings.

But, in the words of the coach who created this culture: "I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But these guys are grinders, and I’m proud of ’em."

Jesse Lanclos is a local business writer and social media consultant. He’s a proud alumnus of the University of Louisiana and a devoted fan of the grind.