Where else can you stop by practice and hang out with Matt Flynn and Tommy Lasorda? Better yet, where else can you stop by practice, period - to stay and watch the guys for as long as we want; watch them bat, watch them catch, watch them throw? There are no huge secrets to discover and no detrimental information to relay to the enemy. As former LSU head coach Smoke Laval once told me, "It's not like we're gonna run a double-reverse on the darn kickoff!"
The access granted by head coach Paul Mainieri to his program and his players is unmatched. Where else can you gather up five Tigers to grab the microphone and sing Kenny Rogers' "When You Put Your Heart In It" on camera? Where else can you get players to goof on Anthony Ranaudo's "Jersey Shore" antics or catcher Micah Gibbs' goofy, quirky ways? There's nowhere else but LSU baseball.
The fans know there's nothing like it either. 9,100 of them bought season tickets for the upcoming season. On many occasions, 11,000-12,000 tickets will be purchased for any given game at "The Box." They'll tailgate, they'll eat and drink, and then they'll watch Mikie Mahtook go deep. After the final out is recorded, they'll hang over the fence to get Mahtook's autograph. And, of course, he'll give it. There's just something about the personal relationship between the LSU players and the fans that is unmatched at any other venue. A venue where fans such as Chis Guillot, "The K Lady," "Knucklehead," and "The Big Ragoo" are almost as well known as the Tigers themselves.
LSU will play 56 regular season games. Each contest is NOT life and death like it is in that towering arena across the street. So what if the Tigers lost today….we'll get ‘em tomorrow. Relax. Get some sun. Have a hot dog. Breathe. Watch the kids run around with their cotton candy. Enjoy your weekend. Enjoy LSU baseball.
But let me contradict myself. Despite all of that rosy talk, there will be a crisis this year. It's unclear where or when, but it will come. It always does. The Tigers will lose two of three to some team or perhaps get swept by another. Some fans will panic and slam the Tigers. "There's no way these boys are going to Omaha!" they'll exclaim to Buddy Songe, Jimmy Ott, Richard Condon or any other local radio host playing baseball's "Dr Phil" that day. The host will then remind the caller it's a long season and "to be patient." The caller will then sigh and mumble "ok."
And without a doubt, LSU will answer the crisis with some hot streak. They always do. Even last season after a horrific late season slump, the Tigers still found a way to flip the switch and win the SEC Tournament for a third straight year. Yep, chances are we'll write these guys off, praise them, write them off, and then praise them again. Trust me; I know the cycle. This will be my 11th season covering the program. It's just how things go.
So Friday the regular season begins at home against Wake Forest. The weather should be great - seasonably warm and pleasant. But not to worry, I guarantee fans will freeze at "The Ice Box" sooner or later. Maybe even in April. On at least one occasion I may say "Why are all these people sitting in the bitter cold to watch LSU play (insert opponent)?" But then I'll remind myself AGAIN, it's LSU baseball ;and, yes, there's NOTHING like it.
In the end, the Tigers' season will be judged on what they accomplish from June 3rd on. In case you're wondering, that's when the NCAA Regionals start, or, as ol' Skip Bertman would call them, "the playoffs." What kind of team will LSU be then? Will they have the hitting? More importantly, will they have the pitching? We've got about four months to figure it out.