Remembering Gabriel – From the Bird’s Nest
As a member of the sports media, I love a good story.
And, I thought Tim Buckley of The Advertiser did a great job of telling a very good story in his series that spoke of two Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns athletes who make a mistake, were held accountable and more importantly, held themselves accountable.
Surprisingly, Buckley was criticized by some Cajun fans on a fan board, suggesting the story shouldn't have been told, feeling the student-athletes mistakes were being unfairly publicized.
I couldn't disagree more.
I thought the article told a story that involves two coaches, both widely respected, not only by Cajuns' fans, but fans and coaches of their respective sports around the country. Something Cajun fans agree on is their pride and admiration for baseball coach Tony Robichaux and softball coach Michael Lotief. And, that article told of how two fine men handled similar situations in not-so-similar ways.
But they are getting similar results, which is what matters.
Cajuns pitcher Colton Lee was suspended by Robichaux for a year for an operating while under the influence arrest. Lotief's player, Haley Hayden, was not suspended, and her situation is being handled "in house" by Lotief.
Funny. Sometimes when we hear that, we wonder if it's being handled at all. But we don't feel that way in Lotief's case. We know what he's about. Hayden is paying a price, although we may not know exactly what it is.
What I love about Buckley's story the most, however, is how the student-athletes have handled their respective situations. Both have taken responsibility. Both understand they are being held accountable and they don't have a problem with that.
That's because they are holding themselves accountable. And, for me, that's heartwarming.
And, as I read, I was reminded of Justin Gabriel.
The Cajuns' lefty, who came out of junior college to help lead the Cajuns to a third place finish in the College World Series in 2000, was arrested after a large quantity of marijuana was found in his apartment. Robichaux's punishment came down quickly. It didn't matter that charges were dropped a few weeks later. Gabriel had brought personal shame upon the program.
Case closed. Suspended. For one year.
Gabriel was given the option to transfer out of the program, as every previous player in trouble had done while Robe was at McNeese. But Gabriel decided to stay.
An article written (very well, I might add) by Dana Heiss Grodin for USA Today told the story of what happened next. Gabriel served the suspension. He earned his way back onto the team. And, he was rewarded by Cajuns' baseball fans for his willingness to be accountable for his mistake by becoming one of the team's most popular players in 2002.
He took his place along side Andy Gros as the ace of the pitching staff. He beat LSU during the regular season and Tulane in the NCAA Regional. I still maintain if 2001 ace Tim Ramon had been healthy, there's a good possibility that team might have wound up back in Omaha. He became a team leader that was admired by his peers and Cajun fans alike..
Gabriel's story moved a lot of people, including me. Gabriel, naturally, had disappointed his family with the poor choice he made. But at Senior Day at Tigue Moore Field, Gabriel's father came in from the West Coast as his son was honored along with the other Cajuns seniors.
I had been on the field doing a pre game interview, but I saw Mr Gabriel. I didn't have time for a conversation but I walked up to him and introduced myself. And I told him, "I just wanted you to know that I have more respect for your son than any student-athlete I've ever covered. Tears welled in his eyes and he softly said "Thank you."
Gabriel is still involved in baseball, teaching and coaching. My guess is he has told his story more than once to those he's helping to mold.
I love the fact that the story shows there's more than one way to handle a similar situation. And, as I hope they already know, I respect those two guys as much as any coaches I've ever been around and I'm proud that they are part of the University I'm paid to cover.
I don't cover softball (although I would if I had time) and don't know Haley Hayden. I don't really know Colton Lee that well, either.
But I'm a fan of both of them. And, I look forward to letting them know.