In my line of work covering the Cajuns, road trips are a part of life. And, there are good trips and bad trips. San Francisco? Good. Ruston? Bad. Boca Raton? Good. Monroe? Bad. Dallas/Ft. Worth? Good. Jonesboro? Bad. Very bad.
And, believe it or not, Troy is somewhere in the middle.
It's a college town. It's not a big city. There's not a ton of stuff to do there, but at least you can get a beer. There aren't a ton of non-chain restaurants, but there are a few good ones. People there are friendly. The drive, however, isn't easy. It's six and a half to seven hours no matter how you try and do it from Lafayette. Most folks go to Mobile, get on I-65 North for about 120 miles, get off on Alabama highway 10 and drive another hour to the east on a two lane road that makes you feel like you'll NEVER get there.
I was heading out last Thursday. Normally I get a rental car when I take a road trip, but the weather was beautiful and scheduled to be even more beautiful as I headed east. So I decided to take my car, a Sebring convertible. I stopped in the office to say Happy Birthday to Michelle Bergeron. Michelle is one of our account executives, and she's a good one. She handles "Walk-On's," where our coaches' shows are held so we work pretty closely together. I told her I was sorry I wouldn't be around to celebrate her birthday. She, her boyfriend and many folks from work were going to head to Coyote Blues for a celebration. I told her I would make sure that I was at a Mexican restaurant in Troy and would order a margarita around six or so and drink a toast to her.
And, that's exactly what I did. I pulled up at Monarcas in Troy and ordered up..and sent Michelle a Happy Birthday text message.
After dinner it was off to the hotel to check in. Your hotel choices in Troy are pretty slim pickins. In the past we've stayed at the Hampton Inn not far from the athletic complex. But since our last trip, they've opened a Courtyard by Marriott right next door to the Hampton and that's where we stayed this time around. It's really a nice place with a great sitting area outside not far from the pool. It had tables, chairs and a fire pit. After checking in I went up to the room and did some internet surfing and a little website work before going to bed for the night.
Friday morning after waking I did a couple of posts on our website and then headed out for breakfast. Troy has a nice place called Julia's, which serves a great breakfast buffet with eggs and omelets cooked to order. It was a beautiful morning and I put the top down on the car. After breakfast, it was back to the hotel where I did, well, not much of anything. I went over game notes for Friday's game, read a bit and, ahem, took a nap.
Around three I headed over to Ruby Tuesday's for lunch. Friday was graduation day at Troy and there was a table next to me with about ten men, all dressed in black suits with black ties. They were honoring a young man who had just gotten his diploma. They didn't speak English, but you can see pride in any language. After a quick lunch it was off to the ball park.
After setting up equipment, I went downstairs to visit with Troy Head Coach Bobby Pierce. Along with Western Kentucky's Chris Finwood, I probably enjoy visiting with Pierce the most. I joke with him a lot and ask if he and Cajuns' Coach Tony Robichaux are twins. They have the same philosophy concerning both baseball and academics. Pierce's teams are well disciplined. They play the game the right way. I like Pierce a lot.
Afterward, I did my pre-game interview with Robe and then headed upstairs to finish prep.
Friday night's game went about as expected. Tyler Ray has blossomed into one heckuva college pitcher. Ray was Freshman of the Year in the Sun Belt two years ago. He had never beaten the Cajuns, but this was a different Ray. He was now a pitcher. His pitches had late movement, he commanded both sides of the plate and dominated the Cajuns' bats. Still, the Cajuns were in the ball game. Louisiana got a tough break in the fourth inning. With the Cajuns trailing 1-0, Alex Fuselier led off with a double and Greg Fontenot laid down a great bunt. The throw was in time, but pulled first baseman Logan Pierce off the bag. First base umpire Bill Bonney, who was stationed between first and second base, had a bad angle and called Fontenot out. Bad call. What made it worse was home plate umpire Dennis McComb wouldn't overturn the call. Instead of runners at first and third with no outs, it was a runner at third with one out. The Cajuns failed to get the runner home.
The Cajuns did tie it up in the fifth, but Troy got two in the bottom of the fifth. In the seventh Troy had two on with two out when catcher Todd McRae hit a sinking liner to right field. Mike Petello came in and made a sliding play, but it was ruled a trap. Petello believes he caught the ball, although Pierce said the next day that video showed it was a trap. Regardless, it was the biggest play of the game and made the score 5-1. Troy went on to win 7-1.
After the game, it was a late dinner and I then got a text from assistant coach Anthony Babineaux asking me to meet him at the fire pit. We visited until about 1:00. We laughed over our different tastes in music. He couldn't find very much on his mp3 player that I had on mine.
Saturday it was back to Julia's for breakfast, some more website work and back to the ball park. Saturday's game was much different for the Cajuns. Louisiana broke the game open in the fourth inning, scoring six runs with two outs. And, once the score got to 8-1, Pierce emptied his bullpen, throwing guys who weren't his front line relievers. The final was 17-1. Jordan Nicholson was masterful for the Cajuns. As good as Ray was on Friday, Nicholson was even better. He didn't walk a man, struck out seven and allowed just five hits and an unearned run. And, he threw a complete game with just 96 pitches. Nicholson would be named Pitcher of the Week for his efforts.
After the game I stopped at a store to pick up some beer to take home. Now, I know you can get beer in Louisiana. But you can't get Yuengling. It's a beer brewed in Pennsylvania that you can get in Alabama and Florida. UL Sports Information Director Daryl Cetnar turned me on to it a couple of years ago. I had made arrangements with Bab to meet him by the pit again and brought some Yuengling for him to try. Assistant coach Brooks Badeaux joined us and we talked about a lot of things, including having a great laugh over the travails of Alex Fuselier in the game. Fuselier singled with one out in the third inning and stole second. Greg Fontenot was at bat and had fouled off several pitches during the at-bat. Fuselier somehow thought he had fouled off another....and started back to first base. The amazing thing is he made it back without being put out. Who says you can't steal first base. Fuselier stole second...and then he stole first. Fontenot then walked and Fuselier went to second. Thinking time was out, he stepped off the bag, removed his helmet and wiped off some sweat....and almost got put out again. Fuse finally scored on Mike Petello's double to tie the score at 1-1. Needless to say, Robe saw no humor in any of that. We wouldn't have either had the final not been 17-1. Before it was over, we were talking about Mid-South Wrestling and Bab entertained with his memories of the Junk Yard Dog. Things got a little silly.
Sunday morning it was time to pack and after breakfast, head to the ball park. Sunday was a big game and both coaches knew it. The Troy players knew it. Obviously, the Cajuns players did not. They came out an laid an egg in the biggest game of the season.
It didn't start out that way. The game was tied at 1-1 after two and a half. A home run by Tyler Hannah gave Troy a 2-1 lead, but the Cajuns came back. Alex Fuselier had an RBI single to get the Cajuns to within 3-2. A double steal put runners at second and third with one out. Greg Fontenot hit a looper to center which was caught, and an appeal to third base was ruled that Trask Switzenberg had left third base too soon and the Cajuns were done for the inning. Troy got two more in the fourth to make it 4-1 and should have had more. With two men on and two out, Adam Bryant (who just might be the league's best overall player) hit a shot down the left field line that was ruled a foul ball by home plate umpire Hank Himmanen. It was not a foul ball. Bryant was furious. So was Bobby Pierce. Then Himmanen decided to call a meeting with the other two umpires who were not in position to see if the ball was fair or foul. That, in itself, was curious. But the call stood and there was no further damage.
The Cajuns came back in the fourth on homers from Petello and Lance Marvel. But Troy put the game away by scoring five times in the fifth, with a three run homer by Tyson Workman the big blow.
Then the Cajuns just fell apart. They made a total of five errors, they got just one hit in the final three innings and suffered the embarassment of losing by the ten run rule, 13-3.
When the best thing that happens on getaway day is you get to leave early, that's not a good thing.
The drive home was........well...........long.