LAFAYETTE — This time a year ago, Kyle Clement and Stefan Trosclair were just a couple of guys on the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team. Flash forward to today, and they’ve earned some capitalization — they’re The Guys.
A little success on the diamond will earn that uppercase distinction for you, or, in Clement and Trosclair’s case, a torrent of success that created a wave the Cajuns rode all the way to a super regional last year.
What happened in between last opening day and now? A lot of doubles banged off the walls and squirrel-seeking missiles launched at the trees beyond the outfield walls at M.L. Tigue Moore Field.
And, even better, they all came at the right time.
Consider this: Through 26 games, on April 1 last season, the duo had combined for one home run and 14 RBIs.
Trosclair was hitting for solid average as a designated hitter, but hadn’t yet shown his prodigious power and was just starting to work his way onto the field as a second baseman after tearing his labrum in Alaska the summer before. Clement was struggling to find the field at all, starting in just 10 of the Cajuns’ 26 games.
Then something clicked. Simultaneously, a switch flipped for both Trosclair and Clement, and from April on they played like baseball hunting cyborgs.
A little bit of background before going back to April of last year. The Cajuns were coming off a team-record 58 wins the season before, and gained some national renown for their aggressive and powerful approach at the plate.
But the vast majority of that 2014 lineup was off playing minor league baseball, and the hitting coach that established that approach, Matt Deggs, had accepted a head coaching job at Sam Houston State.
Some new faces needed to step up into big roles. Trosclair came to the Cajuns in the offseason from LSU-Eunice and worked hard to get himself into shape after he tore his labrum sliding into third base in Alaska.
“He would sit there and literally make coach (Tony Robichaux) hit him ground balls after practice,” Clement said. “In all seriousness, probably 200, 300 ground balls a day after practice. He’d one-arm them and drop them in the bucket. (Then he’d) take 500 one-handed swings in a day.”
It took Clement a while to earn the coach’s trust, but that’s nothing new. He’s a notoriously slow starter — always has been — even dating to his high school days. He remembered a point when he was scuffling early last season when hitting coach Jeremy Talbot told him the team needed him to start producing.
Clement asked him for more time to prove himself, but he wasn’t sure he’d get it. When March closed with an 8-6 loss to LSU, Clement was hitting .205.
Now, we’re back to April 1, when Clement was barely above the Mendoza line and Trosclair, who would go on to lead the Sun Belt Conference in home runs, had one big fly to his name. The readout on the ticking time bomb was about to read triple zeroes.
It should’ve been a warning sign to opposing pitchers when Clement became the first Cajun in 25 years to hit for the cycle against Jackson State on April 11. Opposing teams almost certainly took notice when Trosclair crushed home runs in five of his first six April contests.
But even if teams did prepare, it did them no good.
Here was Clement’s line after April 1: In 38 games, he hit .391 (54-for-138) with 15 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 30 RBIs and a .703 slugging percentage.
“We always thought Clem could be a very good player,” Robichaux said. “I thought he needed to play more to gain confidence, and then that’s what I think happened. He played more, he gained more confidence and I think his ability kicked in.
“You can have all the ability in the world, but if you lack confidence, it negates your ability. I think he grew in confidence the more he played every day.”
Trosclair, from the same point forward, was just as lethal if not more so: In 39 games he hit .347 (51-of-147) with eight doubles, one triple, 15 home runs, 41 RBIs and a .721 slugging percentage.
In the last two months and change, the duo hit more home runs (23) than 107 Division I college baseball teams did over the course of the entire season.
“It was a lot of fun,” Trosclair said. “That’s the most home runs I’ve ever hit in my life in a single season. I can’t describe it man, it was just a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation going in, a lot of attention to the little details.”
The team had fun with them, because the team started winning. On April 1 last season, the Cajuns’ record stood at 15-11. It’s hardly a coincidence that during Clement and Trosclair’s offensive onslaught, the Cajuns went 27-12.
The pair entered last season with 36 career at-bats in a Cajuns uniform — all coming from Clement in 2014. They enter this season as preseason all-Sun Belt Conference picks, and in Trosclair’s case, a preseason All-American. As they are about to embark on their follow-up act, they’ve had to adjust to their new role as The Guys.
“They’re definitely looking at us and asking questions, wanting to know what we know and picking our brain because we’ve had success,” Trosclair said.
It’s not an easy role for either Trosclair or Clement. Both seem live by the “Speak softly, carry a big stick” mantra. But they also seem to understand that their words, however few they may be, carry a greater impact thanks to the way they finished last season.
“I definitely feel that what I’m doing means more now than what it did when I first came here, but I’m a naturally reserved type of person so I don’t say too much,” Clement said. “If something does need to be said, I think when I do speak, people will listen.”
Of Clement, Trosclair said, “He’s more quiet, probably, than me. But he’s a strong, tough guy. He’s the kind of guy you’d want in a fight. If your back’s against the wall and someone’s got you pinned, you want Clem on your side, he’ll be there for you.”
Said Robichaux about the pair, “They’re leading in their own way.”
What they’re hoping to accomplish is what Clement called “a trickle-down effect.” They’ve been active in their new roles as The Guys this offseason, always taking care to do the right thing the right way because they know eyes are watching them.
That is music to Robichaux’s ears.
“Leadership is not an honor or a privilege, it’s a responsibility,” Robichaux said. “I don’t want to be no leader for honor or privilege, we have to learn how to be a leader for responsibility. That’s when your players get really good, when they take on the responsibility.
“That’s what’s good about Clem, that’s what’s good about Trosclair.”