LSU Baseball Fraternity
The LSU Men’s Baseball Team is in Omaha, Nebraska playing for a national championship. Unless you live underneath a rock–or in South Korea–you know that. You know that it is a time of fandom and passion. It is a time of belief and anticipation. It is a time for big plays and excitement. It is a time when Tiger fans ask for the release of head coach Paul Mainieri and/or Nolan Cain when the opposing team jumps out to a 1-0 lead. Passion, as stated, is of the ubiquitous variety; poignant and true. It is a time where a community moves together, banded by their support and propelled by their team.
It is a time that was made possible, 8 years ago, by me…
The tension was palpable. In the stands of newly opened Alex Box stadium fans began to grow restless. A gossamer of doubt blanketed the crowd. Within minutes, it reached the players. It was opening weekend, on a Saturday, and the Tigers were involved in their second game of the season–eeked out a double digit win opening night. Expectations for this 2009 team could not have been any higher. The 8th inning approached and LSU was locked in a 12-1 dog fight against perennial power Villanova. The team began to second guess themselves.
Next to a Gatorade cooler at the end of the dugout, first baseman Sean Ochinko turned to veteran utility infielder Chris McGhee, and spoke.
“32 (McGhee), our prospects seem dubious at best. I feel malcontent.”
Chris nodded, conveying his agreement.
One cooler over star outfielder Jared Mitchell threw his empty water cup to the ground in vehemence. He was not happy with the performance of the team. He felt exactly what everyone else was feeling. He took another sip of water from another cup and he threw that one down too. Freshman infielder Grant Dozar sprinted over, watching Jared from across the dugout, and hastily picked up both cups from the ground. “I got you, J” he said. Grant held his hand in the air for a high five. Jared walked away.
Tension was spreading.
The dugout gave way to drudgery
First base coach Will Davis called Ryan Shimpf a turd..
Nick Pontiff was pouting. Nick was sitting in the middle of the dugout and imagined a future State Farm agency in Metarie, Louisiana and a home with his beautiful girlfriend, Julie, and even that could not assuage the despondency gripping the team.
Head Coach Paul Mainieri, standing in the corner of the dugout closest to home plate, turned to his right and surveyed his team. As great coaches do, he took pulse of his players. He sensed the uncertainty. He saw Mikie Mahtook waiving to a soft four in the crowd and contemplated reprimanding him, but didn’t because he had a hunch that during a midweek series later that year Mikie may go up top twice and emerge as a potential national player of the year candidate… But still, looking past Mikie and taking note of the rest of the team, Coach Maineiri knew this squad needed a catalyst. He knew it and he knew they needed it quick.
“Didier!” He yelled. “Didier, get over here!”
At the opposite end of the dugout, Beau Didier sat with a QAB (Quality at-bat) binder on his lap. Beau used the exterior of binder to conceal a copy of Wuthering Heights he was reading. In panic, and haste, because Beau was scared of coach, he closed the chart and ran towards his name.
“Beau,” coach began. “I need you to pinch hit right now. I know you have surgery scheduled for tomorrow, but the team needs a spark.”
Beau composed himself and stood up a little straighter. Coach turned back to the field to watch a pitch and then focused again on the awkward freshman. “This at-bat could be huge, Beau. It could be a spark. It could bring this team together. It could lead us to Omaha. It may or may not result in you dating an LSU Golden Girl.”
Grabbing a helmet and a bat, Beau nodded to coach.
“I’m ready, Coach Paul Mainieri,” Beau said. “I’m ready to do this!”
Minutes later, as lore recalls, the young freshman stepped up to the plate took a down and in 86 mph heater over the outfield wall–the right fielder never even turned to look (no doubter). Instantly, spirits lifted. Coach Maineri embraced the momentum, told Mikie he wasn’t playing until Harvard mid-week, and four months later, LSU defeated Texas for a national championship.
***Some dialogue may be slightlyyyyy altered from actual events, but the essence holds true.
Basically, from across like three ponds, I wanted to give a shout-out to LSU Baseball.
During this postseason run my friend Anthony Ranaudo and I have streamed almost every inning from our phones. This is an amazing time of year made possible by Coach Paul Mainieri and the program he has created.
We are locked in.
Without revealing too much, I hope whoever reads this realizes this program is a fraternity and something that is made possible by the coach who brought together all these guys.
From Korea, I wish this 2017 team the best of luck. I know the team is capable of greatness because I know their head coach epitomizes greatness. I’m on board, behind Coach Mainieri and his staff, and I wish nothing but the optimum for his players. I hope Kramer Robertson–the only current player I know–goes up top like I did.
I had like 9 beers in Daegu tonight. I’m drunkkkk.