As great as this year's LSU baseball team has been, still sporting a 39-6 overall record after losing two of three to South Carolina, it can't lay claim to the longest winning streak in the program's history. That distinction still belongs to the 2008 Tigers, who rose from the dead to win 23 straight contests through the heart of the SEC schedule.
Michael Hollander was a third baseman on that squad, agreeing to move from short stop to accommodate talented freshman DJ LeMahieu. After failing to reach the College World Series his first three years at LSU, Hollander and the Tigers finally tasted Omaha in '08. And, he homered in his first CWS at bat.
"My dad likes to bring it up. He cherishes that moment," Hollander said. "I think back on it now and then. When I'm not having a great day, it helps me out. It was the highlight of my baseball career, the highlight of my life so far."
That leadoff shot against the North Carolina Tarheels gave LSU a quick 1-0 lead and certainly had fans believing the Tiger magic would lead to a national title. Historic Rosenblatt Stadium was packed with 22,239 fans at that moment, many roaring in approval as the ball soared into the left field bleachers.
"It happened so fast. I go back to crossing home plate, thinking, ‘We're gonna win this thing.'"
Unfortunately, they didn't. The Tarheels would rally to defeat LSU 8-4 in that contest, before eventually eliminating the Tigers from the CWS 7-3 two games later. Still, the memories of that incredible season during head coach Paul Mainieri's second as the Tigers' head coach resonate strongly. After a very mediocre, yet honestly overachieving 29-26-1 record in Mainieri's debut season (the coach would later reflect he thought the Tigers might go 15-41 after fall ball), things weren't looking so great that next year either. On April 20, 2008, LSU sat with a 23-16-1 overall record and a rough 6-11-1 mark in the SEC.
"We had high hopes of reaching Omaha, like every LSU team should. We had some clutch hitters, a never lose attitude. No matter how many runs we were down, we felt we could come back," Hollander said.
Hollander would become a 20th round draft pick by the Texas Rangers, playing minor league ball in places like Spokane, WA and Hickory, NC. Like many LSU Tigers before him, Hollander quickly learned the greatest experiences of his baseball career were likely behind him.
"Minor league ball is grueling. There are nine-hour bus rides. You don't actually have a home. It really feels like you're living out of a bag. You're talking maybe 1,200 people in low A-ball and if it rains, you can forget it. You're done, maybe 200 folks sticking around," he recalled.
Booze apparently is the only way to truly draw fans, according to Hollander.
"If it's ‘Thirsty Thursday,' you can get 4,500 to show. It doesn't matter if you're winning or losing. That's the only way people come to the park. It's completely different (from LSU). You can't compare the two experiences," he explained.
And, you couldn't compare the team camaraderie either.
"The one big thing for me, I always liked the team aspect of playing for a school. I had that at Jesuit High School. It was what we were taught. The age old, the name in front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. That's the way it was at LSU. It's not that way in the minor leagues. You're for yourself, trying to reach the big leagues, then it becomes a team sport again. I didn't have the talent to get there and I knew that," he said.
But, Hollander's "Plan B" is coming together quite well. He's two-and-a-half years through law school at LSU, with just one semester to go.
"The first year was tough. Second year is a little easier and the third year is a piece of cake. It's obviously not baseball. I miss it. When studies get tough, I wish I was still playing," he said.
Hollander hopes to eventually work for Deutsch, Kerrigan, & Stiles law firm in New Orleans, practicing defense work of some kind. But, one form has already been ruled out.
"I don't want to practice criminal defense. I love Hillar Moore and I've talked to him, but I don't want any security guards at my house. No thanks," Hollander added.
He is much more interested in embracing the younger sister of former LSU baseball star Mikie Mahtook. He's been dating Catherine Mahtook for quite some time and is obviously enjoying the relationship much more than his time in the minors.
"She comes from a great family and she's just great. I love her. That's right, I said it on camera," he said smiling.
And, the LSU baseball family still loves Michael Hollander. Now, let's pass that Bar Exam.
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