Monday, June 6, 2016

Leaving Lafayette

The last out of the top of the seventh was made, and now it was party time.

TigerBlog had heard that the seventh inning stretch at Tigue Moore Field was something special and now, Friday night, he was ready to see it first hand.

He was sitting in the press box, watching the riveting game between Princeton and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, in the opening of the NCAA regional hosted by the Ragin' Cajuns. As the inning started to wind down, TigerBlog made his way out of the booth and stood on the landing directly behind home plate.

Then it started.

Everyone in the crowd - all 3,569 of them - stood and started to clap. And dance. And sing.

"Beat the drum, and hold the phone. The sun came out today." Those are the opening lyrics of "Centerfield," by John Fogerty.

And that's what everyone there was singing. It was a giant party.

TigerBlog has been to a lot of college sporting events. He's been to a ton of big-time college basketball venues and to quaint, historic and tradition-laden stops all throughout the country.

He has never seen anything like the seventh-inning stretch at UL-Lafayette. It was one of those rarest kind of moments, one that isn't staged or people going through the motions or any of that forced and phony fun. It was a huge crowd having its nightly party, and it was probably just as genuine as the first night someone there decided to play "Centerfield" instead of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame."

And TB has heard some places get loud. Not too many can match how loud it got when the Ragin' Cajuns took the lead on a triple into the gap in the eighth. That was up there with anything.

TigerBlog had never been to an NCAA baseball regional before, and he was looking forward to going with Princeton. As he said last week, when the draw was announced, he was really hoping for Mississippi State or Ole Miss, because he thought those would be the best regionals for the overall experience.

He was wrong.

Or if he wasn't wrong, then he can't imagine what goes on at those two places, because how can anything top Lafayette?

From the time TigerBlog got there Wednesday until he left early yesterday morning, he was amazed by the city - and its people.

This has to be where Southern hospitality earned its reputation.

TigerBlog cannot tell you how many people he met there who wanted to say hello, talk, ask about Princeton and mostly talk about how much they loved their hometown and their Ragin' Cajuns. He can't tell you how many people offered him food and something to drink, and on the times when he accepted told him he wasn't eating enough.

When seven members of the travel party - and Lafayette native and Princeton alum Ian Auzenne - were at lunch Saturday during the massive rain delay, a local fan walked up to the table and thanked everyone for how the team had played the night before. He said it was an honor to have Princeton there. That's basically how it was the whole time. 

And then there were all of the people who made fun of him or made fun of Princeton and then one second later laughed and put their arm around him.

During his time there, TigerBlog ate crawfish, frogs legs, alligator, catfish, gumbo, jambalaya, pastalaya, beans of all kinds and four po boys, three of which were shrimp.

As for the baseball, the weather definitely messed with things. Friday's game didn't end until after midnight, and the game Saturday at 1 didn't start until seven hours later.

TigerBlog was worried that the weather would ruin the experience, but that never came close to happening.

UL-Lafayette, a leading contender to reach the College World Series, defeated Princeton 5-3 Friday night in the first game. It was one of the single best events TigerBlog has been to in his nearly 30 years of following Princeton sports.

Scott Bradley, the Tiger coach, wanted his team to have the chance to play in that kind of game. When it was over, he knew that they had played a game they'd remember for a long time.

The tournament ended Saturday, with a 7-2 loss to Sam Houston State. Princeton had 10 hits in the game, and Andrew Christie came within inches of homering over the left field wall that would have made it 2-0 Princeton early. Instead, Sam Houston's four-run third was a little too much to overcome.

Because of the loss, Princeton came home yesterday, which meant a 6 am flight out of Lafayette's airport, to Atlanta and then Philadelphia. The flight from Lafayette was delayed for more than an hour, and the Tigers barely made their connection in Atlanta.

The team bus was packed up around 3:45 am, meaning everyone in the travel party had between little and no sleep.

The delay enabled Princeton to take off shortly after sunrise. TigerBlog, sitting on the right side of the plane, looked out the window to see the Cajun Dome, the home of UL-Lafayette basketball, off in the misty distance.

As the plane made a turn and started to Atlanta, Chad Powers, the junior righthander who had pitched so brilliantly against the Ragin' Cajuns, pointed out the baseball stadium. In an instant it was gone, the plane having started to climb above the clouds.

It was a fitting end to the trip.

Clouds above.

One of the truly special places in college athletics below.


Seth Holloway said...

As a long time UL Ragin Cajun fan and supporter, we want to thank you for your kind words. We love our University and sports teams. But, we also love to make sure our visitors remember us and our home town. Thank you for enjoying our hospitality!!!!

Geaux Louisiana Ragin Cajuns!!!

GeauxCajuns said...

Thanks TB.
We enjoyed having your team, your fans, and your families with us this weekend. Nothing but good things to say about everyone involved with Princeton. Continued to success to your the Tigers!

GeauxCajuns said...

Thanks TB.
We enjoyed having your team, your fans, and your families with us this weekend. Nothing but good things to say about everyone involved with Princeton. Continued to success to your the Tigers!

Cajunpuc said...

Wow!... I sit here with tears in my eyes! A grown man crying, because I know that the Cajun-Nation is proud of their team, but prouder in the fact that we provided an a memorable experience for you and our guests. We don't have much, but we have each other and I am so glad that you were one of us, an honorary Cajun while you were here. So glad to hear that y'all made it home safe. I pray that we meet again.
David Puckett

Dennis said...

Thanks and glad you had a good experience at our fair school...come to a football game and stop at RV spot #42. We will feed you some more! Chad Powers truly pitched a whale of a game, and your team and fans are to notch. Say hi to Ian for me.
Dennis Auzenne
Geaux Cajuns!

J. LeBlanc said...

Awwwww, this gave me goosebumps.
So glad you enjoyed our Cajun hospitality.
Can't wait to share.

Cajuns97 said...

I'll say this, Friday night's game was one of the best I've seen in a long time. Princeton came to play and hung tight until the end. Everyone I've spoken to has said that everyone associated with Princeton (fans, players, coaches, staff, and media personnel) were an absolute pleasure to be around. We generally make an effort to make sure that our guests have a good time, regardless of the outcome on the field; so I'm glad you enjoyed your time in Lafayette. Come back and visit anytime.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the kind words, I hope you enjoyed your time in Lafayette. The game Friday night was quite a good one. Best of luck to your team in the future and maybe we'll see you again!

bonnie said...

Thank you for the wonderful comments, it was a pleasure having you in Cajun Nation. Know that you are always welcome, we have an open door policy here in Louisiana. My husband spoke with Scott Bradley on Friday, they played baseball together, Scott said this was a "special place". It's the reason we always came back home after the season. Best of Luck to the Princeton Tigers.

Unknown said...

Princeton exhibited class at its finest.

Joe Abraham said...

Glad to have you here, and glad you were treated well.

I'll add a quick anecdote. A few years back we were in the College Station regional, about to play A&M. They started playing 'Put me in, Coach', and when they realized our fans were all singing it, they cut the music off.

Our fans just kept on singing, through all three verses.

BTW, A&M is the only other school I've been to where they'll offer you food & drink as soon as you walk up. They're nice people. They still don't have as much fun as we do, however...

Annette said...

What touching words. Thank you so much for your story. We love our Ragin Cajun sports! Although I enjoyed my reserved seat at home in front of the TV, I surely am jealous of your experience! Happy that yours trips were safe and that you enjoyed our hospitality. Annette

Russ said...

Thanks Tiger Blog for enjoying Cajun Nation and sharing your experience. We'd love to have you again. I have nothing but respect for Princeton baseball by the way the play and carry themselves. They showed heart and moxy, and a fine bunch of men. Geaux Cajuns, and Geaux Princton!

janice dickinson said...

As a Tiger parent who was in Lafayette that weekend, thank you Tigerblog for putting into words everything the rest of us had been thinking and feeling about our amazing experience there. It was the BEST weekend ever and the Ragin Cajuns are the reason! Ive been trying to tell people all about it; now, I'll just let them read your article!