LAFAYETTE — Joe Robbins wouldn’t have been human if a little doubt hadn’t crept into his thoughts Friday night.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette third baseman was finally getting back to action after missing virtually all of 2014 with Tommy John shoulder surgery.
In the lineup for the season opener at Texas-San Antonio last Friday, the Pineville product went down swinging in his first at-bat. Second time up, same thing. His third plate appearance resulted in a ground ball back to the pitcher. He ended his night looking at a called third strike.
Younger players, ones who hadn’t faced adversity, might have been concerned to the point of panic. Not Robbins.
“Coach said that the next day was the day we come back and fight back,” Robbins said. “Really, I just tried to put everything in the past and start focusing on what I needed to do to get the job done.”
Putting the bad in the past came easily for Robbins, after he had to watch his teammates put together a strong season last year. And Saturday, that approach worked in a big way.
In the middle game of that opening series, the Tioga High product was an offensive machine. He singled and scored in the third inning to tie the game, and came back one inning later to deliver a clutch two-out single that brough in two runs and gave the Cajuns a 4-1 lead.
In the sixth inning, Robbins added a two-out, two-run homer, the first of his collegiate career, to give UL-Lafayette insurance in an 8-2 win.
“That’s why you have to be able to let the past go,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said Saturday. “He was oh-for last night and today he’s the big man. That’s the ability to respond. It’s what you do when something happens to you that defines you.”
Robbins added another single Sunday and will take the team lead in RBIs (four) and a .364 batting average north Wednesday when the Cajuns (1-2) travel through his hometown and head to Natchitoches for a 4 p.m. game at Northwestern State (1-3).
“I got the right pitches and I saw the ball well,” Robbins said of Saturday’s game. “Everything was looking up for me on Saturday.”
Robbins said he figured he was due for some good karma after his 2014 season ended after only three games. Lingering shoulder troubles were aggravated in two games in the opening road series at Southern Mississippi. And when things didn’t improve, surgery became the best option. He had it done March 31, at the point where the Cajuns were 26-3 and on their way to the nation’s No. 1 ranking that they held the final month of the regular season.
“I’m pretty much 100 percent now,” Robbins said. “I try not to think about it too much, and not let it affect me when I’m playing. It really doesn’t cross my mind when I make a throw.”
“Sometimes when guys get hurt or they have surgery,” Robichaux said, “those physical injuries turn into mental injuries. Joe put in the work, and he’s getting rewarded for that.”
UL-Lafayette had only three of its nine-man lineup starting in their same positions for Friday’s opener. And five position players — along with eight pitchers — saw their first collegiate action at UTSA. One of those first-year pitchers, freshman left-hander Gunner Leger, is slated for his first college start against the Demons on Wednesday.
Even Robbins was back in a “new-old” position. He worked for much of fall drills with the outfielders, his versatility providing a boost to a Cajuns lineup that had a big lack of outfield depth. He could still see some action in the outfield this year, but for now, he’s back home and happy.
“I like the infield. ... I’d played there my entire life,” he said. “I’m not going to say the outfield wasn’t fun, but I’d much rather be in there close to everything. I really like how the infield looks. ... I like Greg (Davis) at first, I like BT (returning All-American Blake Trahan) at short obviously, Brenn (Conrad) is a great second baseman just like his brother.
“At third, anybody can rotate there, me or Evan (Powell) or Greg, that gives us a chance to use a lot of depth.”
That will come in handy as Robichaux takes a lot of looks at combinations early in the season, looking for a lineup that can most support a young and developing pitching staff. Robbins’ experience should be a big part of that, even though his on-field time has been limited.
“I do feel like I’m one of the older guys,” Robbins said. “The older guys on this team definitely bring something to the table for the younger guys.”