Phil Devey – Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2021
Walk-on pitcher etched his name in Ragin’ Cajuns record books
By: Dan McDonald | RaginCajuns.com
This is the third in a four-part series on the 2021 Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame Class. Thursday: Tony Robichaux
The circumstances that brought Phil Devey to UL’s baseball program almost defy belief.
It was 1996 and the Lachute, Quebec, native was making plans to attend a university in Montreal after finishing high school. But his goal was to find a way to play baseball in the United States, a goal that his French-teacher mother shared. And when she came to Lafayette that year to take part in a Francophone teachers’ conference, she made a beeline to Ragin’ Cajun baseball coach Tony Robichaux’s office.
“She told him about her son the pitcher,” Devey said. “My mom’s about 5-foot-1 with a heavy French accent, but she’s pretty persistent.”
Devey’s own persistence – “I called Robe every opportunity I had, talked about the IceGators, the culture, questions about pitching,” he said – earned him a spot in walk-on tryouts that he attended and later a spot as a freshman walk-on for the 1997 season.
Devey showed some promise but was by no means a polished pitcher, something the Cajuns desperately needed after Robichaux’s first two years under NCAA sanctions led to 21-24 and 25-33 records. And even Devey, who struggled to find confidence, knew there was something special brewing.
“We were in fall practice and playing intrasquad, and I’d had a bad day and feeling some doubt about my abilities,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was wasting everyone’s time. I didn’t have a car so I walked to the baseball field to clear my head and I saw the lights on. I walked up and saw a guy pressure washing the scoreboard.”
When he got closer, he saw it was Robichaux in the bucket truck with the pressure washer.
“That made me that much more motivated to make this team,” he said, “and be coached by a guy that takes so much pride in his program that he’s cleaning the scoreboard in the middle of the night.”
Devey made that team, and by the time his three college seasons ended UL had won two Sun Belt Conference title and played in three NCAA Regionals while assembling a 124-64 record. In his final year in 1999, he was the Friday night starter for a team that won the Houston Regional and made its first appearance in the Super Regional. The Cajuns lost the two-of-three series to Rice at the Astrodome, but set the stage for the historic 2000 College World Series run.
Because of those successes and more, Devey is in the 2021 class of the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame. He will be honored with the university’s highest athletic honor during this week’s Homecoming activities.
He will join his mentor and late Cajun baseball coach Robichaux, fellow baseball standout Paul Bako and softball pitching great Ashley Brignac Domec as Hall of Fame inductees at a Friday ceremony in their honor. They will also participate in the Homecoming parade and will be honored during Saturday’s Homecoming football game against Texas State.
Devey only pitched 11 innings in that 1997 freshman season, one that began unceremoniously when several Cajun veterans thought he was an equipment manager at the first team meeting due to his slight frame and stature. But Robichaux obviously saw something, and brought Devey in relief in the fifth inning of an electrified late-season environment at LSU.
“Tie game, bases loaded and I had to face Brandon Larson and Eddy Furniss with 9,000 fans screaming, and I looked like the guy from ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’,” said Devey, who got his first UL win in relief.
The Cajuns won their first Sun Belt regular-season title that year with transfer pitcher Trey Poland in a huge role in his only year in a UL uniform. It was Poland that, other than Robichaux, made the biggest impact on the Canadian import and helped him prepare for the limelight that would shine on him for the next two years.
“He’s still one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Devey said. “He took the time to teach me everything he knew. He saw another lefty that was a freshman and needed help, and he really prepared me for my sophomore year. We’d lost a bunch of senior pitchers and I became the Friday starter as a sophomore, and he taught me the burden and the importance of being that guy, to set the stage for the weekend, tell your guys that they got this game because you’re on the mound.
“Had he not been my teammate, I may not have ever fully understood what that meant. Most of the time you don’t expect to be there as a sophomore, but I was well prepared for it.”
Over the next two years Devey won 24 games – still fifth on UL’s career wins list – and led the team in strikeouts in his final two seasons including a school-record 143 in 1998 and breaking that mark with 165 in 1999. He finished his career as UL’s all-time leader in wins, innings pitched (314) and strikeouts (352) … not bad for a guy who looked nothing like a high-level college athlete.
“I had some ability to pitch,” he said, “but it wasn’t until I got here that I appreciated what it meant to be in an environment where everybody played as a team and I was pitching for my teammates and coaches. Those guys had my back at all times, and when I pitched I felt 10 feet tall and bullet-proof. If something went down, if a hitter decided to charge the mound he’d have to go through 35 other Cajuns to get to me.”
Devey was picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fifth round of the 1999 draft, and was pitching for the Dodgers’ San Antonio Texas League team in August of 2004 when he got a phone call from the Canadian Olympic Committee. Devey had been added to Team Canada at a late replacement, and arrived in Athens, Greece one day before Opening Ceremonies.
“They told me to pack my stuff and they had plane tickets waiting for me,” said Devey, who was featured on Canadian Broadcasting in its live Opening Ceremonies coverage. That team went on to finish fourth, and Devey hurled the win against Australia that got Team Canada into the medal round and was televised live across Canada.
“That experience brought me back to my college days,” he said. “Pro baseball, you’re playing for a team but you’re also competing against those same guys to advance. It was the same feeling I had in college that I had for Team Canada, we were playing for something bigger than ourselves, and my love and enjoyment of the game really came out in that environment. And I can say I’m an Olympic athlete.”