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Baseball: Like Father, Like Son

Courtesy: RaginCajuns.com           Release: 06/27/2007
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A College World Series appearance.  Two NCAA Super Regional appearances.  Seven NCAA Regional appearances.  Three Sun Belt Conference regular season titles.  One Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship.  The all-time winningest coach in school history.


Head coach Tony Robichaux has accomplished a great deal at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  On top of that, Robichaux is married to the former Colleen Dailey of Iota, La.  The couple have three children—Ashley, Justin and Austin.  Any regrets? 


“When you miss 21 games of your son’s senior year, that’s not an easy thing,” Robichaux commented.  “[Justin] pitched for a state championship and his father wasn’t there.  In Little League, there were a lot of times when he played games and I wasn’t there.”


With all the success and athletic accomplishments that Robichaux has achieved there is one thing that the head coach has never done—never done until the 2007 season at least.  Robichaux had never coached one of his children, but this past season the father of three got the opportunity to coach his oldest son, Justin. 


“Every day at 2:30 [p.m.], I get to see one of my children,” the elder Robichaux stated with a smile, folding his arms across his red, dry-fit Under Armour baseball polo.  “He has the opportunity to play baseball with us here.  That is a pretty special thing.”


“It’s a little different because now a lot of the things that I tell [Justin]…have a little more meaning now because he is playing for us,” explained assistant coach Anthony Babineaux, who has been with the Ragin’ Cajuns as long as Tony Robichaux.  “The things he does on the field and off the field directly relate to our program.  Before, I would give him a tip here or there if he was hitting in the cages to help out a little bit.  Now, it is to help out our team.  I think that is the main difference. 


“It’s special for me, as well as Coach Robichaux, because I have known Justin for so long and it’s been special to watch him grow and mature into the young man he is today.”


Tony Robichaux took the job as head coach at UL Lafayette in 1995 when Justin was just 7 years old.  Now 19, Justin Robichaux grew up with baseball. 


“I think the big advantage he had was he got to be at practice a lot and be in the dugout for games,” Tony Robichaux expounded.  “He saw a lot of people play the game right.  It is so important for the young kids at a young age to see someone do something correctly because they will mimic that. 


“I think the big advantage him and Austin had was every time they were playing catch when they were little, they were playing catch with a college baseball player; they were hitting in the cages with college baseball players,” Robichaux added.  “I think that has been a bigger advantage than just me.”


Having family close by was something that Coach Robichaux strived for throughout his accomplished coaching career.  Justin Robichaux did not just hang out in the dugout during games or play catch with the players at practice; he traveled with his dad and the teams. 


“The one good thing about it is I have always tried to keep my family near the game,” Tony Robichaux noted.  “They travel a lot of places with me.  They were at the College World Series.  They were with me at [the NCAA Super Regional at] South Carolina. 


“Coaches miss a lot of things in this profession, but the one thing I have tried to do is keep Colleen and the kids near it,” the head coach continued.  “Even at the College World Series, Justin was in the dugout.”


“My favorite memory is definitely the year we went to Omaha [Neb., for the College World Series],” Justin Robichaux explained of his trip to college baseball’s Mecca.  “It was unbelievable over there, and to see college baseball played at that level every day and you are competing with everyone that is there; it is just a wonderful feeling.”


Like a blacksmith’s apprentice, Justin Robichaux has gone from student of the game to a master craftsman. 


As a player at Notre Dame High School in Crowley, La., he honed his skills and earned all-district honors four times.  He was an all-district most valuable player—twice.  “Jut,” as he is referred to by his teammates, earned all-state honors twice and was named the all-state MVP once. 


Justin Robichaux was recruited by perennial baseball powerhouses like Louisiana State University, Vanderbilt, Baylor, Alabama and Ole Miss.  However, despite their reputations, he did not make one official visit to any of those schools. 


His reason?  His father, of course. 


“It is an experience that I can’t put into words,” the younger Robichaux explained about playing for his dad.  “He never really made too many of my games because he was a college coach. The seasons interfere and he really couldn’t be there all the time. 


“When I made my decision, one of my main reasons was I wanted a place where my family and my friends could see me play—especially my father,” he continued.


Even though the elder Robichaux probably had a good idea of where his son wanted to play college ball, he did not want him treated any different from any other recruit. 


No different from any other recruits?!? Is that even possible?


“We sent him the same exact mailouts that we sent to any other recruits,” John Szefc, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, explained.  “Our whole staff already had a solid relationship with him, so it wasn’t like you had to build a relationship with him.  I talked to him about half as many times and his father was filling him in on everything else on a nightly basis. I didn’t call him nearly as many times as I would have called another recruit because one of our coaching staff was going home with the guy every night.”


Robichaux elected to play for the Cajuns—but most importantly, for his father. 


“The biggest challenge that I try to make clear is when I am ‘Dad’ and when I am ‘Coach,’” Tony Robichaux stated.  “It is tough.  You really hope that he doesn’t put you in a unique position where you have to single him out.  I have never really seen Justin throw a helmet or a bat.  I have never seen him do anything on the field that disappointed me, not only as a father but as a coach.”


Justin Robichaux stands at 6 feet 2 inches and has a solid 205-pound frame.  The true freshman started for the Ragin’ Cajuns at first base.  When he was not starting in the field, he was on the pitcher’s mound. 


His preference as to what position he plays?


“It’s a tossup, but if I had to choose today, I would probably pitch,” he replied, tossing his hands in the air and shrugging.  “I think that is where my future is going to end up being is on the mound.”


Versatility allowed Justin Robichaux a plethora of options on the diamond. 


“He was taught early to play different positions,” Tony Robichaux explained of his son’s adaptability.  “Justin has played third; he’s played short; he’s played second; he’s played first; he’s caught; he’s pitched; he’s played left field. 


“It was expensive, but in his bag I made sure there was a catcher’s mitt, a first base mitt, an infield glove, an outfield glove and a pitcher’s glove,” Tony Robichaux continued with a chuckle.  “I am just glad I have a contract with Louisville Slugger.”


Justin Robichaux’s versatility paid off for the Cajuns.  The younger Robichaux played in 38 as a true freshman, making 32 starts at first base.  He took the mound 12 times, with three pitching starts to his credit.  His pitching record was 3-1; His batting average was .267.  Robichaux hit three home runs, including a grand slam, one triple and a pair of doubles.  He has fanned 19 batters in just 24.2 innings of work. 


Justin Robichaux made the transition from dugout devotee watching the team win to a member of the team who is helping the Cajuns win.   


Not bad for “the coach’s son.”


Scores of people probably expected Justin Robichaux to excel; after all, he’s Tony Robichaux’s boy.  However, some grumbled that Justin Robichaux was playing only because he was the coach’s son.  That stigma has followed the Robichaux children throughout their careers. 


“I think it is inherited,” Tony Robichaux remarked.  “I think he has inherited that ever since he walked out on the diamond.  When he does well, he is expected to because his dad is the coach.  If he fails, he is only playing because of his dad.  It is a never-win situation.


“Sometimes that’s not fair,” he persisted.  “Just because on the 8-year-old tee-ball team, a kid’s dad is a dentist doesn’t mean that his son can perform a root canal.  Just because Justin’s dad is a baseball coach, doesn’t mean he won’t strike out or make an error.”


Striking out and making errors is all part of baseball, but Justin Robichaux worked hard to prove himself—worked hard to prove he was more than just Tony Robichaux’s son. 


Despite the snickers, Robichaux earned a start in the Cajuns’ first game of the season against Nicholls State University on Feb. 13, at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field in Lafayette. 


In front of a crowd of 2,040 cheering patrons, the assiduous Justin Robichaux hit a three-run home run just to the left of the baseball-shaped clock over the scoreboard in left-centerfield in his first collegiate at-bat.  He finished the night with three hits in four plate appearances with a home run and a triple.  He also scored three times and drove in three runs, helping the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 15-7 victory over the Colonels. 


“I always believed that he could do it and I was glad for him,” the head coach stated of his son’s first home run.  “It helped him confidence-wise.  It helped him with handling the inheritance that he got from being the coach’s son.”


“It was a dream come true!” Justin Robichaux exclaimed.  “I would never expect that in a million years.  The one thing that made it so special was, I have been waiting to play here my whole life and I have been waiting to play for my dad, and I finally got a little of both.”


The matriarch of the Robichaux household and the duo’s biggest fan was in the front row on opening night dressed her red, mesh baseball jersey with “Robichaux” stenciled in white letters on the name plate and the number “1” on the back. 


“I was so proud of [Justin],” Colleen Robichaux remembered.  “He had a lot of pressure on him.  I know he put in extra time in hitting and I was so excited and so proud of him.  I’m sure Tony was excited, too.  I’m sure he didn’t show it, but I am sure he did a little dance inside.”