LAFAYETTE — No beards allowed.
The 2015 Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team will line up for its season opener Friday clean-shaven because it has to establish its own identity.
There’s an historical precedent here. When the Ragin’ Cajuns made it to Omaha in the 2000 season, the players dyed their hair bleach blonde. A few tried to remake the magic when they showed up for fall camp the following season with bleached hair. Baseball players are creatures of habit and superstition.
“I said, ‘Hold on a minute. Go dye your hair back whatever color it was. That was last year,’ ” coach Tony Robichaux said. “It wasn’t the yellow hair that got them there; it was them.”
So, as fun as last season’s 58-10 ride was, as awesome as it may have been for the players to grow out full beards as they climbed to a No. 1 national ranking and hosted a super regional, Robichaux needed to make sure his players understood last year was gone.
“We told them they had to be them,” he said. “We weren’t going to start off Opening Day with beards. That was last year’s team. God forbid what they come up with, but it’s got to be them.”
Now this team simply has to figure out who it is and, for better or worse, it likely will have to do that coming of age in the shadow of the 2014 team’s excellence.
It’s the nature of sports. From the outside, the truly great programs appear to distinguish themselves by how well they’re able to replicate success. Ask someone in those programs, and they’d probably disagree. They’d probably say it’s not about replicating success but generating it from scratch each year using the same template.
That’s what the Cajuns are aiming to do this year. They believe what got them there in the first place wasn’t necessarily the amount of talent they had on the team — though there was plenty of talent. It hinges more on their daily mindset and approach, which is much easier to reproduce than talent.
“People look at us this year, and they see we have a lot of pressure and a lot to live up to, but the thing about this program is it’s built on playing hard every night,” said All-America shortstop Blake Trahan, the only star returning from last season’s team. “If we do that, I think everything will take care of itself.”
If hard work is what pushed the Cajuns over the top last year, it’s reasonable to question whether they’d have the same drive going into this season. Success can undermine work ethic if you’re not careful.
Robichaux understands that. He said there are three problems that plague teams after good years: complacency, distractions and what he calls “Me-itis” — putting an individual’s success over the team’s.
He drilled that message into his team’s collective head this offseason, but it might not have been necessary just based off the sheer number of players gone from last year’s team.
“Most of the guys on our team that are going to contribute had nothing to do with that team; they don’t know how it feels to win 58 games,” senior first baseman Greg Davis said. “They know the only way we’re going to do that is to work hard. Coach Robe tells us to be gritty all the time, to play the game hard-nosed and get on and off the field. That’s how we’re going to do it.”
The Cajuns are less than a week away from officially putting 2014 in the rearview mirror. They held fan day Sunday and welcomed back several members from last year’s team to participate in a home run derby and a three-inning scrimmage.
The first thing that stood out was that a healthy amount of last year’s players were representing their professional organizations. The Tigue Moore field was graced by players in Dodgers, Angels, Giants and Rays gear. The next thing that stood out was just how many pro-caliber players the Cajuns had on their roster last year — almost enough to fill out a starting lineup.
There was one more thing.
Some of the pro players still had their beards from last year.
The members of this year’s team did not.