By Katherine Terrell | LSU Student
It's become a ritual at Alex Box Stadium.
Junior outfielder Raph Rhymes can be spotted in the dugout signing autographs following every game. Adoring fans stop to talk or ask him to sign a baseball.
There was a time they didn't even know the Tigers' best batter's name.
Rhymes currently is LSU's leading batter with his average hovering around .500 for the season. He's on pace to smash the old season record of .410 set by Russ Johnson in 1994.
Not bad for a kid who didn't even make the team four years ago.
The last Southeastern Conference player to hit .500 in a season was Alabama's Dave Magadan, who batted .525 in 1983 – an era of more powerful bats and power hitters.
The Monroe native always wanted to be around LSU baseball, but the team wasn't reciprocal. After graduating from Neville High School in 2008, Rhymes walked on the squad and stayed through the fall.
Unfortunately for Rhymes, with a new NCAA mandated roster limit of 35, there wasn't room for him. With outfielders like Blake Dean, Leon Landry and Mikie Mahtook, Rhymes was the odd man out.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri released him in December 2008 and Rhymes found himself without a team or direction. He didn't play baseball for months, resigned to watching the Tigers win the 2009 College World Series on television.
When LSU-Eunice called that fall, Rhymes couldn't stay away. He transferred from the Baton Rouge campus to Eunice and became the 2010 Division II Junior College Player of the Year and a Division II First-Team All-American.
Rhymes got another phone call from Mainieri in the summer of 2010. This time, things turned out a little better.
"When we sat down and I offered him a scholarship, that's when I could really see him light up," Mainieri recalled.
Rhymes responded to the second chance by batting .360 last season. This year, he's leading the team in batting average, hits and RBIs.
It's something he certainly didn't expect a few years ago when all he wanted to do was find a team on which to play.
"I wanted to come here and I had to think I could make it back here in order to get here. If you think 'I'll never play there, I won't make it back,' then you probably won't it back. But. . . I was staying positive, saying, I could make this team. But to get here and have the success I'm having, I definitely didn't expect that."
Mainieri said the 18-year-old Rhymes he met in 2008 and the 22-year-old are two different athletes. One is stronger, more athletic and confident. But, the coach added, Rhymes has never lost sight of himself despite success.