The Grind: 2016 Season Tribute [VIDEO]
"Baseball Season Is Over," the worst four words in the English language. We had to lay the Ragin' Cajuns' 2016 season to rest prematurely, but we can all still share the memories to heal the fresh wounds.
For our final addition of "The Grind," I want to look back on the year, on and off the field. Of course, the players and coaches would still like to be at the ball park, but they still accomplished a lot.
Injuries to Kyle Clement, Hunter Kasuls and Joe Robbins put the lineup in flux, and several batters overcame slumps at the plate. They caught South Alabama from behind to earn the #1 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament, then they won their third straight conference championship. Thousands of fans sat in M.L. Tigue Moore Field for the last time, and the players gave them a fantastic show.
They helped Daniel Allemond fight cancer and gave Dylan Moore's friend "Double J" one of the greatest days of his life. Parents brought their daughters and sons to The Tigue, and Tony Robichaux's men set a fine example for them to follow. If you stay after the games, you see the amount of people touched by the program. Few fan bases share a relationship with the players and coaches like Cajun Nation, and this year the Ragin' Cajun name stood tall and spread across the nation.
Arizona fans, including ESPN's Pedro Gomez, and Princeton fans alike gushed about the Cajun hospitality. The city of Lafayette stepped up like usual, and the baseball team gave everyone an opportunity to shine again.
Individually, Dylan Moore broke his own single-season saves record, and Nick Lee was named a Freshman All-American. Four different Cajuns (Moore, Lee, Clement, Gunner Leger) earned All-Conference honors, and Eric Carter's rise in the bullpen was a picturesque ending to a senior season.
Speaking of the seniors, there's only one way to dedicate the last Grinder(s) of the Week.
Grinders of the Year: 2016 Senior Class
You won't hear the 2016 senior class talk a lot. They're one of the quieter bunches around. It's because they're busy letting their games do the talking.
Three pitchers, five fielders and one hopeful returnee make up this bunch of seniors. Hopefully, Joe Robbins gets one more year (he missed all but three games in one season, GIVE HIM THE YEAR NCAA) with Cajun Nation. We need more of #TheJoeRobbinsExperience.
We'll start with the arms and end with the bats. Every one of these seniors made an impact, in their own unique way.
Tony Robichaux said if there was an earthquake and the house started shaking, Will Bacon would still be sitting down eating his cereal. He trusted Bacon to come into dicey situations and get them out of jams, mostly because nothing phases the guy. Insert "Bacon into hot grease" puns if you like, but he's heard them all. We all spent four years making bacon puns, now you finally get a break, Will. I don't have the skill(et) to cook any more up. Sorry, I had to do it.
You might want to remember the next senior's name. He might be performing surgery on you in the future.
Nick Zaunbrecher, future "Dr. Z," is on his way to medical school. Not only is he carrying a big ole brain, he has a lot of heart. He didn't have many innings under his belt in the 2016 season, but his leadership will be missed dearly. Coach Robe said he would turn off music before the games and read scripture to the players. That takes a lot of backbone, and Zaunbrecher has spine to spare.
Of all the grown men on the team, Eric Carter might be the boulder in the rock pile. Carter turns 24 in under a month, and he's already married and has been on a Mormon mission. Maturity and leadership spread throughout a team, and Carter was a constant source of both. On the mound, he was an absolute stud this season. He elevated his game to another level, becoming a setup man for Dylan Moore and a second closer when the game demanded it. If you're looking for the Most Improved Ragin' Cajun for the 2016 season, Carter is a no-brainer.
When Tony Robichaux was asked about the senior class earlier this season, he singled out two unselfish players to describe the mindset of the whole bunch: Nick Zaunbrecher (Dr. Z) and Derek Herrington.
Herrington came to the Cajuns from LSU-Eunice, and he provided Coach Robe a reliable glove in the outfield every time his name showed up in the lineup. If he didn't get the start, he stayed ready. If he didn't play, he helped his teammates stay focused and encouraged them. If you went to practice, you saw Herrington diving left and right for balls, competing with a true love for the game. He scored the game winning run in extra innings against Sam Houston State in the first game of the season, which means he set the tone for the 2016 season.
Where do you start with Kyle Clement? He's done it all. His glove made Sportscenter more than once in his career, his bat led the Cajuns in average (.370) all year, he was one of Section A's favorites ("HEEEEEYYY SEVEEEEEEN!") and a class act with the young fans. Many times, he stepped in front of the microphone to talk about tough losses or trying times, and he always spoke with poise and represented the university well. Clem's playing days aren't over, and whoever decides to give him a uniform will quickly learn what a grinder looks like.
You won't meet a nicer guy on the planet than Brian Mills. Also, he drove in two runs with a bunt in the regionals. A double-squeeze isn't crazy in Robe's system, but there's a tidbit behind that bunt that tells Mills' story. He struggled to get bunts down when he got here, but he knew it was important in the "pack" hitting scheme. Tyler Girouard, who went from playing to coaching, made him bunt a bucket of balls every day at practice. Shugg's regiment paid off for Mills, when he provided the perfect execution for one of the rarest plays in baseball in a massive moment. Mills played baseball like a senior should, and I'll miss hearing his unique accent in the dugout.
Stefan Trosclair's name will live in Ragin' Cajuns folklore for years to come. "OH. MY. WORD, JAY. CAN'T BELIEVE IT!" His grand slam against South Alabama in the Sun Belt Championship is one of the biggest moments in the history of the baseball program, and it still gives fans chills to hear the the call when we replay it on the radio. Coach Robe said Trosclair is a true ball player. He loves the dirt and digs the diamond. Trosclair was an All-American, a leader and an example for the rest of the team. He's old school and weathered, which means he's perfect for pro ball. Give him a bat and a glove, and let him go to work. Trosclair belongs on the baseball diamond.
The final senior is an iron man. Gladiators wear armor, and Nick Thurman suited up like a warrior.
Thurm meant so much to the Ragin' Cajuns. He didn't miss a pitch all season. Going back to last year, he helped guide a young, talented pitching staff to the promised land. Tony Robichaux entrusted Thurman with Gunner Leger, Dylan Moore, Nick Lee, Wyatt Marks, Evan Guillory and other young arms like Hogan Harris, and he learned what made them tick. Next year, there will be massive shoes to fill at catcher, but Thurman's handling prepared these pitchers to take over. They know what to throw and when to throw it now. His presence will still be felt after he leaves, and his calm in the face of any situation promises him a bright future.
Even though their collegiate playing days are over, they will always be Ragin' Cajuns. This also isn't eulogy. The 2016 season is over, but baseball will be back...
LOOKING FORWARD: NEW ERA, SAME SOUL
A lot is going to change between now and the start of next baseball season. Renovations will begin, "The Tigue" will go away, but a beautiful new ball park will bloom in its place. Players will move on to their next phase of life, but new men will join the Cajun ranks to embrace the grind.
One thing will stay the same though, the heart and soul of Ragin' Cajuns Baseball.
Tony Robichaux will be back, with all his Robeisms. Anthony Babineaux will be back, along with the core of the pitching staff (Leger, Lee, Moore, Harris, Guillory, Marks). The fans will be back in the stands, Mr. Vic will be boiling peanuts, and the pines will still be in the outfield. The new park will be built on the foundation of M.L. Tigue Moore, and it will be a massive "thank you" to the best fans in the country.
It's hard to say goodbye to baseball season. Next year seems so far away, almost like forever. Since nobody wants to do it, I'll start the goodbyes.
Goodbye to the seniors, but not forever. Come back whenever you like, and we'll feed you boudin. Goodbye to "The Tigue," but I can't wait to see its new facelift. Goodbye to Centerfield and Sweet Caroline. Goodbye to the Cajun Cooking Club and their heavenly grill. Goodbye to dancing during delays, cookouts in the parking lot and changes of hearts (and shirts) in the stands for LSU fans. Goodbye to walk-up music ("TEQUILA!") and The Muppets singing Bohemian Rhapsody. Goodbye to the searing kiss of the bleachers when you sit on a hot, sunny Louisiana weekend.
Goodbye to a season of passion, devotion and pride. Goodbye to the players, coaches and fans, but hello to the future. I'll see you back out at the park next year. In the meantime, I'm going to try to make a time machine, so we can all fast forward to baseball season again.