How an unknown pitcher from Quebec talked his way onto the UL baseball team, made the hall of fame

Phil Devey finished his career as Cajuns all-time leader in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts


Longtime UL assistant baseball coach Anthony Babineaux still remembers the day well.

The day perhaps the greatest individual story in Ragin’ Cajuns baseball history was born.

On that summer day in 1996, a young kid named Phil Devey and his mother had the spunk to knock on the door of UL’s locker room door with a strong message.

“He said he wanted to play baseball for the Ragin’ Cajuns,” Babineaux said.

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Photo ci-dessus : Phil Devey dans l'uniforme des Ragin’ Cajuns de l'Université de la Louisiane à Lafayette.

The first response of Babineaux and head coach Tony Robichaux was that freshman tryouts were over, but Devey wasn’t having any of that and neither was his mother. They were in town from Canada by chance for a Francophone teacher conference.

His persistence earned him a brief meeting and this young kid from Lachute, Quebec, made quite an impression.

“You could tell how determined he was and that he had really had a good idea about pitching,” Babineaux said.

In the back of their minds, the program was still reeling a bit from the probation they inherited over the previous two season, so help was needed.

Devey had somehow talked his way onto a Division I baseball squad out of nowhere.

On Friday, some 25 years after that fateful first meeting, Devey will be inducted into the UL Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It’s like having an out-of-body experience,” Devey said as he considered his unlikely journey. “It’s still to this day hard to believe that was my life. So yeah, there was absolutely no preconceived notion of anything other than wanting to play Division I baseball somewhere.

“Ultimately that was the dream. Somehow the bar kept rising.”

As a freshman in 1997, Devey only pitched 11 innings, but one in particular was quite memorable.

In a key moment of UL’s road upset victory over top-ranked LSU, Robichaux somehow thought it was time to bring in Devey with the bases loaded and nobody out with the likes of All-Americans Brandon Larson and Eddy Furniss coming up.

“He struck out the side,” Babineaux said. “From there, everything just took off for Phil.”

“The circumstances behind it — getting the win and then the reception when we got home — it was like nothing I had every experienced,” Devey said. “That was really memorable. I know it meant a lot to a lot of people.”

By his sophomore season, he began an incredible two-year run with the Cajuns with 24 wins. He broke the school strikeout record twice and finished his career as UL’s all-time leader in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.

Devey gives much of the credit to the leadership he received from 1997 ace southpaw Trey Poland, who taught him the responsibility of being a Friday night starter.

But Devey gives most of the credit to Robichaux.

“When I came here, I had good movement on my pitches — my two-seam fastball in particular — but I didn’t know it and I didn’t appreciate it,” Devey said. “I just knew how the hitters reacted to it, but I didn’t know how it happened or what to do with it. In coming here, he just taught me how to use it.

“How to start working my two-seam more to the middle of the plate to get it to move to the outside corner and work the outside corner to get it off the plate, or the strategy behind the approach against particular hitters … what to do based on how they reacted to a particular pitch. Did they foul it off and where did it go and what does that mean?”

Babineaux, however, gives much of the credit behind UL’s turnaround to Devey, who led the team into NCAA regionals in 1998 and then into the Super Regionals in 1999.

“Looking back, to me so much of the progress the program was making leading up to going to Omaha in 2000 was because of what Phil was able to do,” Babineaux said. “To me, it starts with him. He was the main player that really got us going as a program.

“He might have only been 5-8, 5-9 and 100-nothing pounds, but really he was the complete package. Great two-seam fastball, great curve ball, great pickoff move, he knew how to pitch, great leader and a great competitor.”

By 2000, Devey was in the minor leagues, but still far more happy for the program than upset he was gone.

“I showed up late to the field (for Clemson win in Omaha), because I wasn’t leaving until that game was over,” Devey said. “When they beat South Carolina (in Super Regional), I remember Scott Dohmann calling me and I could hear everything screaming in the background. None of it was gut-wrenching for me. All of it was just incredible.”

Perhaps more than any player in program history, Devey lived the nickname of Ragin’ Cajuns.

No, he never knew exactly where Lafayette was growing up in Canada, but with a father that was a history teacher, he grew up hearing the story of the original Cajuns migrating to South Louisiana from Nova Scotia.

“The history of this area is so amazing,” said Devey, who also had success as a member of the Canadian team in the 2004 Olympics. “I’ve always felt like I wanted to represent the history of this area. That’s why it felt so great to have that across your chest as a Cajun, because when you really know what it represents … it truly represents what our school and our university is all about.

“The underdog mentality … the red-headed stepchild, as they say. I didn’t know anything about LSU when I got here, but I certainly felt it from day one. My passion for trying to be better than has been engrained in me since I walked in this school.”

And yet when the committee told the celebrated left-hander he was going into the UL Athletic Hall of Fame committee with his hero Tony Robichaux, Devey broke down.

“The emotional part is obviously the one that was the most influential and that’s not with us any more,” Devey said. “That one is really tough. I felt very unworthy of being in the same class and sharing a moment like this with him.

“To me, I felt like he should be going in by himself, because he’s earned it and deserves it. He’s in another class. I shouldn’t be in the same class as him.”

But conversations with Robichaux’s family convinced him, his old coach would have wanted it that way.

“I couldn’t have written it any better,” Austin Robichaux said of Robichaux and Devey being in the same class. “It makes the most sense in my head.”

You see, it was Devey that organized an unprecedented players-only fundraising drive to erect a larger-than-life statue of Robichaux in front of Russo Park.

“He’s deserving of everything that’s coming to him and his family,” Austin Robichaux continued. “To have done what he did for us is extraordinary. It (statue project) was something I can’t even wrap my head around. Phil’s like a brother to us. He’s family.”

Fittingly, Devey settled in Lafayette to raise his family once his professional career ended. Devey was drafted in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers and got as high as Triple-A ball before retiring in 2005.

“When I was here, the community embraced me,” Devey said. “Every time I did anything, I felt like I was needing to represent the Cajun community.

“So for me to be able to raise a family and stay here is such a blessing. I can’t think of a better place to raise a family and raise kids. The weather is terrible in the summer and there’s no beautiful ocean view and beautiful lakes and mountains, but the people are what makes this place so great.”

Revue de web publiée par Jacques Lanciault.

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