Jonathan Lucroy credits Robichaux for opportunity to play in major leagues

Stephen Hunt
Special to the Advertiser
UL head baseball coach Tony Robichaux talks with catcher Jonathan Lucroy, left, pitcher C.J. Blue during a 2005 game against Northwestern State University at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field.

ARLINGTON, Texas — This had already been a tough week for Jonathan Lucroy.

On Monday, the former UL standout and his Los Angeles Angels teammates were stunned to learn that starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs had been found dead at the team hotel at age 27. Monday’s game between the Angels and Texas Rangers was postponed.

And on Wednesday, Lucroy, a two-time All-Star catcher, learned that his former coach, Tony Robichaux, who coached 29 All-Americans at Lafayette, had died after having a heart attack June 23.

“Baseball, college baseball, amateur baseball, even professional baseball, they’ve lost a great ambassador to the game,” Lucroy said prior to Wednesday’s game. “He has impacted hundreds, thousands of players over the course of his career. We’ve lost someone special to the game for sure.”

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Lucroy and Robichaux maintained close contact via text, but the veteran catcher remembers the last time he saw him, during a mid-April road trip to Texas, a trek that happened to coincide with the Cajuns playing a series at nearby Texas-Arlington.

“I got to visit with him for about 20 minutes, so that’s the last time I saw him. It’s a sad day because he was a great man,” he said.

“He’s helped a lot of people and made a lot of people better, including myself. He gave me a chance to play Division I baseball when no one else would. He’s the only one that did, the only head coach that gave me an opportunity to play at a Division I school. I’ll never forget that, and that’s why he’s so special to me, because he believed in me when no one else did.”

Between 2005 and 2007, Lucroy, a Florida native, was a mainstay for the Ragin Cajuns.

His three seasons in Lafayette under Robichaux helped him catch the eye of the Brewers, who selected him in the third round of the June 2007 draft. His big-league debut came in 2010 with Milwaukee and since then, he’s also been behind the plate for Texas, Colorado and Oakland before signing with Los Angeles this past offseason.

And he realizes had he not played for Robichaux, he might not have ever realized his dream of playing in the big leagues.

“I have no idea (where I’d be without him),” he said. “I know 100 percent that if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here. I’d have played baseball at a junior college in Florida and I wouldn’t have been able to be on the stage that I was without him, his generosity and offering me a scholarship and giving me an opportunity to play.”

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When asked what he wants people to remember most about Robichaux, he named his selflessness, intensity and how much he cared about his players. But he also wanted to relay just how much he cared about impacting his players as much off the field as between the lines.

“He would say all the time he wasn’t in the business of making professional baseball players. He was in the business of making professional men, professional husbands, professional fathers,” Lucroy said.

“That was what he was in the business of. That was his goal. He wasn’t in it for the money. He wasn’t in it for glory. He wasn’t in it for anything other than making the boys that he brought into the school there into men. He achieved his goal. He did a great job. My best friends that I have were my teammates there. It’s a sad day for the sport, for Louisiana sports and for college baseball.”

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The Angels finish the first half of the season on Sunday in Houston, and once that game is in the books, Lucroy, his wife, Sarah, and their family will drive to Lafayette for Robichaux’s funeral next week.

“I’m looking forward to being there and celebrating his life because he’s definitely a life worth celebrating. He was a good man,” Lucroy said. “She (my wife) knew him as well. He came to our wedding. It’ll be a good time to see everybody and celebrate his life. Mourn him, he’s going to be missed.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.