Chances are pretty good if you were in attendance at The Tigue Friday night, at some point, you had dust in your eyes.
Southeastern Louisiana’s 3-2 win over the Cajuns was the evening’s afterthought as the tributes to Tony Robichaux took the center stage.
UL retired Robe’s No. 36 and Robe’s sons, Austin and Justin, each threw out a ceremonial first pitch — both strikes might I add. The videos were chilling as a throng of former Cajuns players looked on. The countless No. 36 hats on the field and in the stands were a constant reminder of the legacy Robe left behind.
If you weren’t overcome with emotion Friday night at The Tigue, I have a hard time believing you were even there. I had the honor to cover Tony Robichaux for 10 baseball seasons. Though there were a plethora of journalists who covered Robe for many more years than I did, my experience with him and what he means to me is somewhat unique.
I was privileged to meet Robe in a professional setting I would say roughly 100 times. I covered games and weekly press conferences — I even had a couple of interactions with him during various youth sports clinics around Acadiana.
I got to talk to him, ask him questions and shake his hand. I passed by his office nearly every time I made my way to countless press conferences in the Cox building. Those very same press conferences featured Robe captivating the room with every word he spoke.
He was, of course, always gracious. Always respectful. Always dignified.
In all that time, all those interactions we made, all those opportunities I was given and all the impressions he made on me, I never formed a personal relationship with Tony Robichaux.
I haven’t stopped thinking about that since last July. I haven’t escaped the fact that I had the privilege and the opportunity to have a personal relationship with one of the most respected men I’ve ever come in contact with and I won’t get that opportunity back.
I see the relationships he had with his players, his fellow coaches — both at UL and across the country. I see the relationships other members of the media developed with Robe, the time he spent having personal conversations with them that had nothing to do with baseball.
It is of course, entirely my fault. I often thought after a particular press conference or game or whatever opportune moment presented itself, I would ask Robe if I could get a few minutes just to talk. I know he was busy, but I also know he would have accepted and given me wise words that would stay with me forever.
I always stopped myself from initiating the first step. I would tell myself that I’d do it one day. The stars will align and it’ll be the perfect situation and the perfect setting and I’ll make that move. Not today, but I’ll do it eventually.
I never did.
Now I think back on all the times I wanted to and I’m not sure why I didn’t. It’s not like Robe was ever difficult to approach. He was, in fact, the most approachable coach I’ve ever covered at UL in any sport.
When I received the news that Robe died back in July, it was devastating. I began to look back on all those interactions I’d had and all those chances I had to get to know such a great man.
I’ll never get those chances back.
I’ve struggled on how to honor Coach Robe in my own way. I wanted to do something he would be proud of, something that if I had taken those chances to form that relationship, he would approve of.
Sure, aspiring to be like Robe may be admirable, but we all know there will never be another Robe.
So I decided to make changes. Believe me, I have a lot of work to do. But I try to be better every day — just a little. I work on myself and I think about the type of man Robe was and how his legacy as a man is among the greatest most of us will ever know.
So now, when I’m reluctant to shake someone’s hand, I try very hard to fight that reluctance. When I have a grudge with someone, I try very hard to bury that hatchet. When I disagree with someone, I try to remain civil and measured.
Like Robe was.
I’m a work in progress, as Robe would have probably told you he was also. But when it was all said and done for him, the finished product was a damn fine model for what I’d like to become.
I may never get there, but every time I make the first move to introduce myself to someone new, I think of Robe. I feel like he’s working on me from wherever he is.
I finally have my relationship with Tony Robichaux.