Tony Robichaux remembered for his impact, on and off field

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Tony Robichaux

The baseball community throughout Louisiana is mourning the loss of UL Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux, who died Wednesday at Ochsner Medical Center at age 57.

Robichaux, a 33-year veteran of college coaching who had been the Ragin’ Cajuns head coach since 1994, suffered a heart attack on June 23 and was transferred to Ochsner late last week.

While Robichaux’s playing and coaching career was tied to the area between Lafayette and Lake Charles, his impact was certainly felt in New Orleans – where those who talked about him mentioned as much about what he accomplished away from the diamond as he did on it.

“It’s shocking news,” said Wally Pontiff Sr., who hosted Robichaux’s teams in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic at the Shrine on Airline six times, most recently in April. “We lost a wonderful young coach and wonderful man.

“He made it special for us. He said he was honored to come and play in the game and honor Wally. He didn’t ask for anything extra. He was a class act.

“I could tell in the dugout how much respect those kids had for him. I’m glad I was able to talk to him before every game.”

The Cajuns’ 2000 team, which knocked off top-ranked South Carolina in a super regional to reach the College World Series, featured numerous local connections, including outfielder Steven Feehan of Holy Cross – the only Cajun to make the CWS all-tournament team – and relief pitcher Brian Babin.

“The first time I went to visit, I didn’t know if I would be considered,” said Babin, now the head coach at Salmen, his alma mater. “Playing for him just one year was really life-changing.”

Nearly 20 years later, Babin still uses lessons he learned from Robichaux with his players.

“I know every time I go out there to pull the pitcher,” Babin said, “I tell them the same things he told me.”

The 2000 season was the only time that two Louisiana schools reached the CWS, with LSU winning its fifth national title under Skip Bertman.

“That was the best part for us, to have two Louisiana teams up there,” said Pontiff, whose son was the starting third baseman at LSU that season. “When they were playing, LSU fans were cheering. We pulled for each other.

“The friendship in the stands, that was a touching moment – Louisiana people just enjoying it together.”

Delgado head coach and athletic director Joe Scheuermann played and coached against Robichaux during his time at Tulane in the 1980s. They are the only two college coaches in Louisiana to win 1,000 games in the state.

“He did it the right way,” said Scheuermann. “He was a good guy, a great coach and an even better man.”

Delgado sent a handful of players down I-10 to Lafayette, most recently outfielder Daniel Lahare, who was a regular for the Cajuns the last two years.

“There’s more to baseball than W’s and L’s,” Scheuermann said. “He had a way of teaching the game of life through baseball.”

Former Tulane coach Rick Jones first faced a Robichaux-coached team in 1994 – Jones’ first year with the Green Wave and Robichaux’s last year at McNeese before he made the 70-mile trip east on I-10.

“We had some good battles over the years,” said Jones. “He did it the right way and had really good people with him.

“The thing I’ll remember most is when I got sick and had to leave Tulane, Tony was one of the first people to call me, and he continued to check on me. That’s all you need to know.”

Some of Robichaux’s non-baseball moments over the years have gone viral – long before these last 10 days – but it was perhaps how he combined baseball and life that made a difference.

“I know a lot of people sit there and say what a great guy he was,” Babin said. “Every bit of it was the truth. Every pregame and postgame was about being a better person, being a better man, being a contributor to society.”

“He made his players respect the game,” Scheuermann said, “and more importantly, respect people, which is what it’s all about. We lost a pioneer when it comes to that.”

“At the end of the day,” Jones said, “he’s one of us, and when one of us passes away, that’s tough to take.”

Added Pontiff: “I’m a better man for meeting Tony Robichaux.”

Babin, fighting back tears, recalled the story of when the team was gathering the fall after the 2000 season to receive their College World Series rings and other awards.

In days before email and texting were the ways to communicate, a letter was sent to Babin’s house, but he didn’t see it initially because his mother, who always handled the mail, had recently suffered a stroke.

Once he did, after the deadline to respond, Babin called to tell Robichaux what had happened and how he had withdrawn from classes at Southeastern Louisiana, where he was finishing his degree, to take care of his mother.

Babin recalled Robichaux’s words to him: “Lefty, I taught you right. There’ll always be a university, there’ll always be a degree, but there’ll never be another mom.”

There will always be a UL Lafayette, and there will always be a Ragin’ Cajun baseball program, but it’s safe to say there will never be another Tony Robichaux.

RELEASE: VISITATION AND FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS SCHEDULED FOR HEAD COACH TONY ROBICHAUX

Tony Robichaux, the renowned leader of Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Baseball for 25 seasons, will be laid to rest Monday, July 8.

Ahead of the funeral mass set for Monday, visitation will take place Sunday, July 7, from 3-9 p.m. at the Cajundome Convention Center. The rosary will be prayed at 7 p.m.

An additional visitation period will occur on Monday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church on Johnston Street in Lafayette.

Monday’s funeral mass will follow the visitation at Our Lady of Fatima, beginning at 2 p.m.

Burial will take place in Crowley following the funeral mass. Geesey-Ferguson Funeral Home of Crowley is handling arrangements.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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