(This is the first of a 6-part series on the LA Tech Athletics Hall of Fame Class which will be enshrined Oct. 7).
By Amber Barker
Ask Richie LeBlanc what life is all about, and he’ll give you one word – relationships. It was his relationship with a friend who unintentionally introduced him to his father-in-law; relationships that made Ruston feel like home in the 80s and still in 2022.
And it’s the relationships with teammates he singles out when discussing the honor of being inducted into the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame next month.
“This place has embraced me like a native son, and I love this city,” said LeBlanc, a two-time Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year from Lafayette, who wasn’t highly recruited and only had one scholarship offer at the time he visited campus on his own.
“It’s about the relationships you build with the people around you – that’s what’s going to be memorable 20-30 years down the road.”
His athletic contribution on the baseball diamond will also be etched in memory, as LeBlanc and\ five other Tech athletes will be inducted into the Class of 2021 Hall of Fame on Oct. 7 in a ceremony that was postponed due to Covid-19. An honor for anyone, yes, but especially for an unrecruited pitcher who heard countless times he would never be a DI player because he was “too small and not good enough.”
“You’ve just got to work hard and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it. We were the underdog in a lot of games. Not letting anyone tell you it’s impossible has prepared me to do what I do now,” said LeBlanc, President of Hunt Forest Products.
While LeBlanc, who led the Bulldogs to the 1986 and 1987 NCAA Regionals while being named the Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year both seasons and recorded a 29-8 mark in the circle, including registering 18 complete games in 38 career starts, will be the one to receive the HOF honor, what he recalls most about his time at Tech stretches beyond the numbers.
“My freshman year we had 19 new faces – it was a rebuilding year. We weren’t just teammates, we were brothers, and we did everything together. You build relationships outside of baseball,” LeBlanc said as he reminisced on walking to the field and cafeteria, as well as spending time on the same floor in the dorm.
“I couldn’t tell you how many games we won, but the bonds are still strong and there today. Living together, being together, those are the things that were important, that have lived and survived over time. That’s what kept me here, you really wanted to play for them, not just yourself.”
The bonds created have led to decades of interaction off the field, including attending and even being in each other’s weddings, as well as watching each other’s kids get married, LeBlanc noted.
“We’re still very close. I’m sure there will be several in attendance (at the ceremony),” said LeBlanc. “The guys I played with were a very, very special team. I just can’t say that enough, it was a family.”
Coincidentally, being a Bulldog was the catalyst of LeBlanc starting his own family. He tells of meeting Dr. Pat Garrett to further discuss the intricacies of the quarter system – a meeting that changed his life.
“When I came up for my visit with my father, I met with an English professor who happened to be the brother-in-law of a friend of mine. In his office I happened to see a picture of a beautiful young woman on his windowsill, and I told myself I had to meet her,” LeBlanc reminisced.
As luck would have it, that young woman, Holly Garrett – daughter of Dr. Garrett – transferred back to Tech from Ole Miss and several years later the two had a class together.
“I asked her out several times, and finally she said yes. And here we are more than 30 years later.”
The couple married in December 1987 after his junior season. LeBlanc, the 10th round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals in the 1987 MLB Draft, said signing a professional contract afforded him the opportunity to buy a ring. The two moved 14 times for LeBlanc’s career before returning to Ruston to be near family in 2015.
He said it’s the lessons he learned from Tech and the people he has met that have impacted his life the most. One lesson he cherishes is an interaction with then University President Dr. F. Jay Taylor (who passed in 2011) who would often sit in the dugout during games. LeBlanc remembers the president sitting in his “lucky” pitching seat in a 1986 game against Centenary and asking Dr. Taylor if he wouldn’t mind “moving over a bit” – he did.
“He asked me how it was going, and I told him about a speech I had to write after the game,” he recalled. “I go back out to pitch the top half of the inning, and when I come back, he hands me a sheet of paper and it’s a speech with five bullet points, and one of the bullet points is: give other individuals who work with you credit for their contributions and accomplishments.”
LeBlanc still has the paper, and he keeps it tucked away safely at home. It serves as a reminder, and it all goes back to relationships.
“As a pitcher all you had to do was throw a strike and let the guys behind you do the work. We had some really good defenders and great teams,” recalled LeBlanc, whose 12 wins in 1987 is tied for the program record for most wins in a season.
“It’s a testament to the teams we had that we’re being recognized. Yes, it’s an individual honor, but it’s for everyone else on those teams too.”
The induction ceremony will take place Friday, Oct. 7 on Karl Malone Court at the Thomas Assembly Center. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. with the reception starting at 6 p.m. and the ceremony beginning at 7 p.m.
Tickets are still available. Ticket prices are $50 for one ticket or $400 for a table of eight. Any interested can click HERE.