March 26, 2007
It's probably best to get the bad part of the trip out of the way.
We flew into Lafayette hoping to right the ship after last weekend's conference sweep at the hands of Troy. It was a weekend of disappointment and the trip to Louisiana promised to be as challenging, if not more. We found ourselves about as far removed from Boca Raton Florida as possible. We have a loyal core of fans at home and sometimes get a decent crowd, but nothing like what we found in Cajun country.
Coach Robichaux's boys were off to a good start and featured the best pitching staff in the Sun Belt. The FAU offense is at the top of the list, so something had to give. The old baseball adage is that good pitching stops good hitting. This matchup followed that script.
How many college baseball series this weekend featured all three games being knotted 2-2 in the eighth inning? Ours did. The starting pitchers for both teams pitched great: just look at those scores. But, as we all know, baseball games are nine innings. Each time I summoned our bullpen we had a breakdown. The first night because of two ULL hits the next two because of our own miscues- walks and wild pitches.
To say that it wasn't pretty is an understatement. Two good teams were locked in three good games, eyeball to eyeball and we were the ones who blinked. The ULL defense was solid each game-I can't tell you how many diving catches their guys made. We aren't a great defensive team and it hurt us in these tight games. Their pitchers did a great job against us the entire weekend. They were the better team.
Lafayette offers quite an experience for the college baseball player and fan. The place was packed Friday night and Saturday and Sunday saw nearly identical large, loud, and responsive crowds. There is definitely a more electric atmosphere playing in front of their fans. I know there are a lot of great SEC and ACC venues, but Lafayette is something to see.
The Cajun Cooking Club down the right field line deserves special mention. It's the practice of their group to cook each night for the ULL players. They also extend their efforts to visiting conference teams on Friday nights, a gesture that makes a night game on the road a lot more convenient. It eliminates the hassle of trying to find food for so many late at night. Add to that the reputation of Cajun style cooking and visiting teams get quite a treat.
Friday's in Lent are tough for me- it's tuna for lunch and pizza for dinner. But the Catholic influence down in the bayou extended to the ball park. Our guys were treated to a down home Cajun shrimp stew at the Cooking Club pavilion right after the game. It's tough to eat immediately after a tough loss, but their generosity was too good to pass up. I was told there was no charge- they do it for the kids. I went from person to person but no one would take my offering of thanks. To some people money isn't as important as doing something nice to help young people.
Sunday would be a tough day to eat dinner after the game. Our flight connections were tight, so I asked Big Red, one of the chief chefs of the club if I could arrange to buy whatever they were cooking. I should have given him advance notice- they already had bought their supplies for the ULL kids' post game meal. But Red and his boys insisted on going out and buying some hamburgers and assured me they'd be ready with a to-go meal for our kids. I told him I'd settle up after the game and advised him to add on the labor costs to our tab.
As we made our way toward the gate after a heartbreaking, ninth inning loss, Red and his crew started carrying individual boxes of dinner and cases of water to our vans. I was told repeatedly that "your money's no good here". Maybe they felt sorry for us, but I don't think so.
They're just great people.
As the NCAA Final Four rivets everyone's attention to the high priced world of college basketball, I got to experience something you could only find in the blue collar world that is college baseball-kids playing their butts off, fixing their own fields, riding buses and vans, and being surrounded by wonderful people who work hard to add a human touch.
I looked up the word "kind" in the dictionary today.
Webster defines kind as "friendly, generous, or warm hearted in nature".
To that I would add "Cajun".