Category Archives: College Baseball

Too bad I didn’t see this nine years ago

I’m inside the press box at the new Alex Box Stadium. I had seen it plenty on television, but looking at it up close, it is impressive to say the least.

The press box is actually a press box, something it wasn’t at the original Alex Box. At the old park, the press box was open air and was two cramped rows, save for a little more room for LSU’s radio broadcasters.

Bill has his own booth, but he told me there are always a lot of people in the booth, which makes is as hectic as the old place. The official scorer–who happens to be my old pal Bryan Lazare–has a public address system to announce scoring decisions and pertinent statistics. In the old Box, the scorer had to use hand signals to convey decisions.

For the fans, the two biggest things are (a) an open concourse which allows fans to go to the concession stands and use the restrooms without missing much action, and (b) no obstructing poles in the grandstand, which was not uncommon in baseball parks built before World War II. Fenway Park and Wrigley Field still have them. Comiskey Park in Chicago and Tiger Stadium in Detroit were notorious for them.

Driving through campus to the stadium was sort of an out-of-body experience. I remembered the route from the Courtyard to Alex Box well enough, but many of the buildings I saw along West Lakeshore and South Stadium Drives were not there when I took my final class in the summer of 1999.

I’m glad LSU was able to build so much when there was good funding to education during the administrations of Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco. Bobby Jindal cut education funding drastically, and although John Bel Edwards constantly states he wants to increase education funding exponentially, it’s hard to do with Louisiana’s budget in such dire straits. Just like Kansas, except K-12 education funding is the big problem in the Sunflower State, not that for higher education.

LSU and Tennessee are ready to begin. First “Baseball at the Box” since June 6, 2005.

Even if the Tigers don’t score a run this weekend–heaven forbid, but I don’t think that happens–the trip to Baton Rouge is already a smashing success. I’ll blog about it when I get back to the hotel.

Many, many, many (…) days of waiting over!

Two thousand eight hundred forty nine days since I last departed Baton Rouge, I have returned.

It became official just before noon when my dad and I crossed the US 190 bridge over the Mississippi River. The bridge is now painted silver like the Interstate 10 bridge. Previously, it was orange, which matched the bauxite dust from the nearby Kaiser Aluminium plant, long since closed. When it opened in 1940, the bridge was blue, but when the dust kept coating the bridge, it turned orange, so the state decided enough was enough and stopped painting it blue.

The trip from Texarkana included a bit of hilarity in Shreveport. We stopped for gas along the last exit out of Shreveport heading south on Interstate 49. There are two stations on the road, a Chevron on the right (eastbound) and a Shell on the left (westbound). The Shell was selling gasoline for less than the Chevron. There were no cars at the Chevron, yet at the Shell, every pump was in use and there were line waiting to get their gas.

All to save six cents per gallon.

You read it right: SIX CENTS. One nickel and one penny.

In other words, many were there to save no more than $1.08, which would be 18 gallons of gas times six cents. One guy had a full-sized pickup truck and a generator to fuel. Even if he needed 50 gallons, he would still save a measly three bucks.

My dad decided to wait in line, since we had already pulled in to the Shell and didn’t want to cross the highway to go to Chevron.

We  passed by the state capitol when we got to town, but traffic was nuts, so we decided to come back and try to get a picture Sunday. When we returned to Interstate 110 to get to I-10, traffic came to a crawl. Baton Rouge and traffic go together just like peanut butter and jelly.

In an hour, my dad and I will be going to eat at one of Baton Rouge’s most popular restaurants, TJ Ribs. We’ll be meeting someone from my past…

We have time. The game isn’t until 7:00. Tonight will be fine, but tomorrow is supposed to be very stormy as I mentioned earlier.

I will admit I’m nervous. I have not seen this person in a very long time. I have wanted to see them for a very long time.

Ten hours to Texarkana in the books

Ten hours after leaving 1224 North Brooks Street, Russell, Kansas, my dad and I arrived in Texarkana. The hotel is on the Texas side of the state line right on Interstate 30.

There were a couple of rough moments today.

The first was in Wichita where a car was stopped on the left shoulder of Interstate 135, but was sticking out into the road. Luckily we saw the vehicle to avoid trouble. I hope the person in the car was not seriously hurt or worse. That looked like big-time trouble. And if there was an accident, I can only imagine how bad traffic would have been snarled on I-135.

The second came right before getting to the hotel. If you have ever driven in Texas, at least in metropolitan areas, you are aware there are frontage roads where hotels, restaurants and stores are located. In many instances, there is no direct access from an exit to your destination; you’ll have to probably use a frontage road for at least a mile, probably more.

In this case, we had to use the frontage road on Interstate 30 east for two miles to reach the hotel. The problem was, the turn was almost immediately after crossing a double white line, and that is very dangerous.

The danger almost came to pass, as a car came over the double white line and nearly sideswiped us. My dad made a quick maneuver to turn right into the hotel. The stuff in the back seat shifted, but we were okay. Just a little stunned.

That was enough excitement for one day. Other than that, it was a very good trip, with two stops at Love’s Travel Centers, which are as ubiquitous in Oklahoma and north Texas as strip clubs on Bourbon Street. Dinner tonight at On The Border was outstanding. I’m stuffed.

Tomorrow should be fabulous. We’ll be in Louisiana about an hour after leaving the hotel, and by 1:30, we should be in Baton Rouge. I cannot wait to see Bill, Michael Bonnette, Chris Blair and anyone else who shows up. And maybe someone I haven’t seen for a very, very, very long time. Someone I miss more than just about anyone on earth.

From what I have seen, it is going to be very cold back in Russell tomorrow. So cold that Hill City postponed its big track meet scheduled for tomorrow. Since Hill City put installed a world-class track at its stadium before the 2017 season, its meet has become one of the best for small schools anywhere in Kansas. It’s a shame it has to be pushed back to April 23, but Mother Nature is still undefeated.

Four enchiladas and some fajita meat and veggies (my dad couldn’t quite finish it) has done a number; thankfully, I didn’t eat breakfast and I restrained myself from eating too much at Chick-Fil-A for lunch, so it could be much worse. I will sleep well tonight. If I can sleep. The anticipation might keep me buzzed.

Have a good night. And a better tomorrow.

Not in Kansas anymore

It’s been five hours since we left Russell. Stopping for lunch in Midwest City, just east of downtown Oklahoma City. Beat the lunchtime rush at Chick-Fil-A across from Tinker Air Force Base.

This is the first time I’ve been in the Oklahoma City area since driving to Russell following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The biggest difference between now and then with OKC is the city has the Thunder, which came from Seattle in 2008.

The trip to Texarkana is about halfway through. Weather has been nice, and save for a few very slow or very fast drivers, the traffic has been fine.

Now it’s Interstate 40 to Henryetta, then comes the turn south again towards Texas. Hopefully we’ll be in Texarkana by 5:30.

Tomorrow is the day I’ve waited for. Hopefully no Friday the 13th curse.

Ready to roll…and a flashback to Music City

It’s here. In less than two hours, my dad and I will be on the road. Today’s destination: Texarkana. And no, we won’t have any beer, despite what Jerry Reed sang in “East Bound and Down”, the theme from Smokey and the Bandit.

I last went to Louisiana in 2010. Like that trip, I am not returning to New Orleans. Baton Rouge is the end of the line for us. There’s baseball and hopefully good food, but I have work to do during the down time. There is a lot of sitting and waiting during weekend baseball series, as I rediscovered last year in Lexington and two years ago in Columbia (Missouri, not South Carolina).

The trip actually got off to a bad start yesterday.

When my parents went to New Orleans last October, my mother’s Toyota was involved in an accident in the French Quarter. They had to drive back to Russell in a rental car while her car was being repaired. My mother offered us use of her Toyota for the trip, but my dad said no.

Instead, he decided to rent a car in Hays. I offered to drive to Wichita, leaving my car at the airport. But he declined. So we went to Hays yesterday to get the car.

If anything seems too good to be true, it is. And so it was with the car.

It was a 2018 Impala, a much more sophisticated version of my car.

Problem was, the air conditioner did not work. No refrigerant.

I was very angry. STEAMING. And for what? I made a fool of myself. Again. Another story for Crista and I to discuss in 16 days when I see her again.

My fear was there would not be a car for us in Hays, and we’d have to drive the sweatbox to Wichita to trade it out. Fortunately, another car, a Hyundai Sonata, arrived back in Hays at 5:15, so all is on track again.

The weather today will be just fine, albeit a bit hot for mid-April. Tomorrow is going to go downhill as the day goes on, but we should be able to drive from Texarkana to Baton Rouge without any problems.

Then comes Saturday. Rain chances 100 percent, as in it is going to rain; the only question is how much. Some models are predicting up to four inches. The good news is no severe weather is predicted in Oklahoma or Kansas on the trip, which is always a huge concern in spring.

Still nothing on a change to the weekend schedule. My thinking is they’ll try to wait out the rain Saturday and still attempt to play at the scheduled starting time of 6:30, rolling the dice and accepting the reality of two seven-inning games Sunday if the rain doesn’t abate. Tennessee should be in Baton Rouge by 5:00, so the wheels will start spinning then.

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Tuesday and Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of one of my stranger experiences in college baseball.

LSU played Vanderbilt Easter weekend 1998 in Nashville. My dad and I drove up for the Friday and Saturday games, but missed the Sunday game to get back to Baton Rouge so I didn’t miss class Monday.

My dad and I left Thursday and stopped for the night in Tuscaloosa. Thank God we left Thursday, because the previous day, killer tornadoes struck Alabama, including an F5 which destroyed homes in suburbs of Birmingham. The motel where we stayed along Interstate 20/59 was destroyed by the April 2011 tornado which came perilously close to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Vanderbilt’s campus is not too far from downtown Nashville, in an area famously known as the West End. There are many upscale hotels, restaurants and shops along West End Boulevard, which runs from Interstate 440, the loop around Nashville, to downtown and the Cumberland River.

Vanderbilt’s campus is wedged in along the west end of West End, the quintessential urban university, which is totally opposite of the large state institutions which populate the rest of the Southeastern Conference.

Land at Vanderbilt is at a premium, and the athletic plant is no exception. The baseball field is wedged into a small space abutting the Commodores’ football stadium and Memorial Gymnasium, the basketball arena where the benches are along the end lines and the stands rise like balconies in a theater rather than encircle the court.

Vanderbilt has made it work despite the limitations. Hawkins Field is a wonderful facility, featuring a large press box and luxury boxes, chairback seats, and just about every amenity you would need for a school Vandy’s size.

The third base line at Hawkins Field shares a boundary with the east side of the football stadium. There is a 35-foot high “Black Monster” in left field to make sure most home run balls do not damage windows at Memorial Gymnasium.

It has certainly helped the Commodores go from SEC doormat to an established college baseball superpower, one which won the 2014 national championship. Of course, Tim Corbin, who has coached there since 2003, has been another big reason for Vandy’s success.

Prior to the construction of Hawkins Field, the Commodores’ diamond was, well, let’s just say, lacking.

SERIOUSLY LACKING.

What was known as McGugin Field, named because it was across the street from Vanderbilt’s McGugin Athletic Complex, was WAY below sub-standard for an SEC program. That’s being kind.

The listed capacity was 1,000. The Commodores hardly ever needed that many seats, save for SEC weekends which drew large crowds. Of course, LSU draws the largest crowds to SEC games, and as expected, purple and gold was all over the stands in Nashville that weekend.

Those stands were worse than what I have encountered in some high school football stadiums in rural Kansas. Think the visiting side of Russell High’s stadium. I can think of a few stadiums around here–Hill City, Norton, Phillipsburg–where the visiting stands are better than what Vandy had in those days. And there was no shade, which, sadly, is too common in the SEC.

(One place without a roof over its grandstand is Florida, which is ridiculous. The good news is the Gators will be moving into a new facility by 2021, one with a roof over the main seating area, which will mean the end of McKethan Stadium. I’m not shedding tears.)

There was no press box atop the “grandstand” at McGugin Field. Instead, the press sat in a trailer-like structure on top of the third base dugout. That actually was a step up from the past; Bill told me he and Jim Hawthorne broadcast from outdoors in both 1995 and ’96 and froze their butts off both times.

The problem was with the press “box” was there was no way to see down the third base line, since the trailer was very narrow and no way to see out the side towards the outfield. As bad as the open-air press box at the old Alex Box Stadium was, at least you could see the whole field.

Honestly, the SEC should have told Vandy it had to play conference games at Hesrchel Greer Stadium, which was then the home of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. The Big 12 forced West Virginia to play its conference games elsewhere prior to 2015 since the Mountaineers’ stadium in Morgantown was horrible. That forced West Virginia to play games in other locales in the state, mostly in Huntington or Charleston, but sometimes in Beckley or Wheeling.

If Vandy had trouble finding dates at Greer, it should have been forced to another suitable facility, even if it were in Memphis or Chattanooga, or (God forbid) Knoxville and the Volunteers’ Lindsey Nelson Stadium. But college baseball in the late ’90s only mattered in Baton Rouge and Starkville. Other places can say they cared, but the reality was LSU and Mississippi State truly cared, and the others were going through the motions.

However, the SEC commissioner in those days, Roy Kramer, had been athletic director at Vandy for 12 years prior to making the move to Birmingham. No way he was going to rule against his former employer in that one.

LSU won the two games my dad and I attended, and Vandy won the Easter game. I returned to Nashville five years later, and of course, we were very happy to see Hawkins Field.

Those who play for Corbin today, or visit Vandy in the SEC, should be thankful for Hawkins Field. Their forefathers had it much worse.

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Okay less than an hour to departure. Need to get in the shower. Signing off for now.

Almost gone

In less than 48 hours, my dad and I will be in Texarkana, resting after one long day of travel. The next morning, it is on to Baton Rouge for the weekend baseball series between LSU and Tennessee.

These will be the first baseball games I have witnessed on the LSU campus since the 2005 regional at the old Alex Box Stadium. Rice won that regional, defeating the Bayou Bengals twice. However, the Owls fell short of Omaha, returning to Louisiana a few days later and losing twice to Tulane in the super regional.

I have not seen the second Alex Box Stadium, which opened in 2009. I passed by it a few times in 2010 when I was last in Louisiana, but I never got close to the stadium. Now, in its 10th season of service, I’ll finally get an up close look at the the House of Mainieri.

In the past few years, I’ve attended LSU baseball series, but always away from Baton Rouge. It was Missouri in 2013 and 2016, and last year, it was Kentucky, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This year, the only reasonably close drive for LSU’s five road series was Nashville, but there was too much going on that weekend (March 23-25) to go to Vanderbilt. Therefore, I suggested a trip to Baton Rouge, and my dad jumped on it.

Originally, we were going to go March 16-18 when LSU hosted Missouri, but events conspired to push it back.

The forecast is very dicey. It’s supposed to be warm and humid Friday–yuck–rain hard Saturday, then be very nice Sunday. It does not look like there will be a game Saturday. The question is whether the doubleheader will be Friday or Sunday.

If the doubleheader were Sunday, both games would be seven innings. The first game would probably start at noon, or 1 p.m. at the latest. One game must start at 4 p.m. since the SEC Network is televising the game. Here’s something weird: if there were a doubleheader Sunday, and the first game lasted past 3:15, it would be suspended and completed later that night, following the televised game.

The only way there can be a doubleheader Friday is if the SEC office grants a waiver, and both LSU and Tennessee agree to it. Last year, Kentucky asked for that waiver when LSU came to Lexington, and it was granted, and then Paul Mainieri gave his consent to Nick Miginone. It meant nearly eight hours of baseball and ten hours at the ballpark. If there is a doubleheader Friday, both games would be nine innings.

I didn’t think I would need long pants or long sleeves on this trip, but I’m bringing jeans and sweatshirts to be safe. The parka is staying back in Russell; last year, I wore it in Lexington.

I have slept 48 of the last 49 nights in my own bed in Russell. The exception was last Monday when I vacated to allow the work to be done in my bathroom. Next Thursday, it will be two months since I last left Kansas City. With Dawn now in Florida, with Lisa and Liz long gone from Buffalo Wild Wings, and maybe those pauses between Kansas City will become longer and longer.

All I know is it has been way too long since I’ve seen Baton Rouge. And way, way, way too long since I’ve seen certain people in that city. Hopefully the drought ends before I depart next Monday morning.

A bit of everything on a February Saturday

I realized something yesterday when I was in Buffalo Wild Wings, something I had forgotten in my post on the opening of the college baseball season.

February 16 is a date which lives in LSU baseball infamy.

It was February 16, 2003 when LSU was swept in a doubleheader at home by….Kansas.

Yes, the same Kansas which is in Lawrence. The same Kansas which is considered a basketball blue-blood. The same Kansas which has a horrible football team right now.

The Jayhawks came to Baton Rouge for a three-game weekend series on the second weekend of the 2003 season. LSU was 4-0 and feeling pretty good about itself, but that good feeling was dampened by a 10-inning loss to Kansas in the series opener.

The second game of the series was rained out, so a doubleheader was scheduled for Sunday.

It was one of the most miserable days I have ever experienced at a sporting event.

It was cold, damp and windy. The old Alex Box Stadium did not have an enclosed press box, and the wind whistled through the “press area” like nobody’s business.

The twinbill started at 9:30 a.m., because the Jayhawks had to make their connecting flight from Baton Rouge to Dallas, and then to Kansas City. No new inning could start after 4 p.m. Yet for some reason, both games were scheduled as nine-inning contests, contrary to the policies of the Big 12 and Southeastern Conferences, which require seven-inning games during conference season when doubleheaders are necessary on Sunday.

That provision is why LSU and Kentucky asked the SEC to play a doubleheader Friday last year in Lexington when rain was forecast for Saturday. Paul Maineri and his Kentucky counterpart, Nick Migione, did not want to play two seven-inning games Sunday. The SEC said okay, and it all worked out.

Kansas ended up winning both games. The second game ended after seven innings due to the curfew. The Jayhawks became the first team to sweep a three-game series in Baton Rouge in three years, the first to sweep a doubleheader from LSU since 1991, and the first to sweep LSU in a doubleheader in Baton Rouge since 1988.

In 2010, Kansas returned to Baton Rouge and won two of three. However, the Bayou Bengals exacted revenge with a sweep in 2016.

Last night, LSU trailed Notre Dame 6-0 going into the bottom of the fifth. However, two home runs, a grand slam by Bryce Jordan and a three-run shot by Josh Smith, lifted the Bayou Bengals to a 7-6 victory.

I texted Bill that I hope every game is not like this. If not, cardiologists might have their hands full in Baton Rouge this baseball season.

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Dawn’s going away soiree at Buffalo Wild Wings last night was fantastic. Had a great turnout, with Jeremy Smith, a former manager at two Buffalo Wild Wings in the area, Zona Rosa and Overland Park north, was there, as were Robb, Victoria, Mike Decker (LOWPOP) and Schylar Reed (SLYCKS). Kevin couldn’t make it because his mother underwent surgery in St. Joseph Thursday. Luckily she pulled through.

Dawn leaves next Saturday. Hopefully we do not lose contact like so many I’ve lost contact with over the years. The five I mentioned in the blog post of December 20 still hurt. So do a lot of my old chums from Arabi Park Middle, even though we communicate on Facebook. The only one I have seen since I left in 1989 is Toni LaRocca, and that was in 2000, when she was working at a Hooter’s in Metairie. She rocked the orange shorts.

Brenda LeBlanc is the one I’m really distressed over, at least among those I knew in Louisiana. She always got back to me in the past whenever I e-mailed her. Now, I haven’t heard from her in almost two years. If I go to Baton Rouge next month, I hope and pray I see her. Maybe I need to light a candle in a church or say the rosary.

I worry about Liz drifting away. She has trouble getting back to me. I don’t want to blame her, but it would be nice to hear from her more often.

Lisa is busy with a new home now and with Liam growing up. Hopefully she and Jeff will be adding to the family soon. Losing her would be tough, too.

I would be devastated if Peggy or Caitlyn exited my life for good. Those are the two I really couldn’t afford to lose.

Actually, it would be worse if I didn’t have Dr. Custer taking care of my health for the most part, Dr. Jones taking care of my vision, and Crista trying to keep me on the right path. All three could choose to be full-time mothers, and while it would hurt, I wouldn’t blame them. I think it’s easier for Dr. Custer since she has boys; the other two have girls, and the mother-daughter bond is usually very strong, as I’ve seen with Peggy and Caitlyn, Chelsea and Courtney.

Yes, I have male friends. Robb, Bill and Dan Borne would be the ones I would cry over losing. I’m not as close to Michael and Herb, but I would be upset if they cut me off, too.

Maybe I hold on to things too long. Then again, my memory can be a good thing.

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I have never understood why restaurant customers in Kansas City order barbecue flavored wings.

Kansas City is home to some of the best barbecue in the world, according to many. I am not a big barbecue fan, but I have had some good stuff from Arthur Bryant’s, Gates and Jack Stack.

If there are so many good and authentic barbecue joints in Kansas City, then why the heck are people going to Buffalo Wild Wings and ordering honey barbecue? I’m dumbfounded. But it’s their decision.

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Many states are holding their high school wrestling state championship tournaments this weekend. Missouri’s is at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Nebraska’s is at the Century Link Center in Omaha (across the street from TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series), and Louisiana’s is at the Century Link Center in Bossier City, across the Red River from Shreveport in the northwest corner of the state.

Don’t get me started on the debate on where to hold Louisiana’s state tournament. When I lived there, it was at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, at the northwest edge of Jefferson Parish. Most schools in Louisiana which wrestle are south of US Highway 190, but apparently Shreveport and Bossier City offered inducements to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to move the tournament north.

Brother Martin, my alma mater, is on its way to the state championship of Division I. There are three divisions for wrestling in Louisiana, one fewer than Kansas and Missouri.

My problem with Louisiana’s tournament is it is compressed into two days. Worse, in Division I, many wrestlers will have to win five bouts to claim a state championship. To ask them to do so in about 36 hours is too much.

Missouri and Nebraska hold three-day tournaments. Why can’t Louisiana?

Kansas’ state tournaments are at three sites next Friday and Saturday. Three sites is two too many.

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So far, so good on my Lenten promise of not swearing. I just have to keep it up until the end of March, then hopefully continue after that.

Play ball, college style

Sorry, Peggy. I hope I don’t bore you with this post.

The 2018 NCAA Division I baseball season begins today. Nearly 300 teams open today with dreams of being one of the eight fortunate squads to make it to Omaha and the College World Series.

The reality is, only 20 to 30 teams can realistically expect to have a chance to be one of those eight, even though 64 teams make the tournament. Sure, anything can happen in baseball, and everything has happened, but more often than not, the elite will rise to the top and emerge champions.

There have been exceptions, most notably Fresno State, which won the CWS as a #4 (last) seed in a regional in 2008, and Coastal Carolina, which became the second school from South Carolina to win a national championship in 2016. That has to be a sore spot for Clemson, but I’m sure the national championship Dabo Swinney’s football team won six months later far overshadows any lack of success in Omaha.

Of course, my alma mater is one of the teams which ALWAYS believes it will be forming a dogpile on the mound in Omaha in late June. LSU came close to winning its seventh national championship in 2017, but it was swept in two games by SEC rival Florida in the championship series. Not only was it the first time LSU lost when making it to the final round, but it was Florida’s first championship in baseball. The Gators are one of the few schools with a “trifecta”, national championships in the three major men’s team sports of football, basketball and baseball. Michigan, Ohio State and UCLA are also members of this exclusive fraternity.

LSU, Arizona, Arkansas, Miami, Minnesota, Southern California, Stanford and Texas each have a hole in their championship resumes. For most, it is basketball, but for the Razorbacks, it’s baseball. The Wildcats have never come close in football, and the Cardinal (formerly Indians) have never won a recognized football championship, although the school claims two retroactive, minor mathematical formulas from years before World War II.

The Bayou Bengals open their 12th season under Paul Maineri in Baton Rouge against Maineri’s former employer, Notre Dame. LSU played in South Bend three years ago, but it was two midweek games in May, not a weekend series. Of course, playing in South Bend right now is next to impossible due to the harsh climate of the Rust Belt. Maineri enjoyed tremendous success with the Fighting Irish, taking them to the CWS in 2002 against incredible odds, since Notre Dame won a super regional at #1 Florida State. Notre Dame even won a game in Omaha that year, eliminating Rice, the team which shut out Smoke Laval’s Bayou Bengals in two super regional games at Houston. Laval was fired after a 2006 season which saw LSU go 35-24 and miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988.

Maineri led LSU to the 2009 national championship, as the Bayou Bengals defeated Texas in the three-game championship series. LSU won its other five national championships (1991, ’93, ’96, ’97 and 2000) under a one-game championship format, one which was grossly unfair, especially if one team went through its bracket undefeated and lost the title game to a team which lost once in its bracket. LSU was a beneficiary of this in ’93, when the Tigers lost to Long Beach State in bracket play, beat the 49ers in a winner-take-all bracket final, then bested previously undefeated Wichita State for the title. In ’97, undefeated LSU beat once-beaten Alabama in the final, so it worked out. The other three times, LSU beat a fellow unbeaten in the final (Wichita State in ’91, Miami in ’96 and Stanford in 2000).

LSU is a mystery in 2018. The Bayou Bengals were hit hard by graduation and the Major League Baseball draft, and Maineri must find replacements at nearly every position. SEC coaches picked LSU fourth in the West division for the upcoming season, behind Arkansas, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Florida is the favorite in the East and to win the overall title. LSU got a big break in the schedule, since it does not have to play the Gators nor Kentucky, which was picked second in the East. LSU also gets Arkansas and Mississippi State at home.

One month from today, I’m planning on being in Baton Rouge for LSU’s SEC opener vs. Missouri. I usually try to make one series a season. The easy choices are Missouri and Arkansas, since they are closest to Russell. Last year, I chose Kentucky because (a) I had never been to Lexington during my years at LSU; (b) I knew LSU would be going to Fayetteville in 2019, and I had been there three times before; and (c) Kentucky’s current baseball stadium would be replaced in 2019 by a fabulous new park, so I wanted to see the old place. I have NOT seen the current Alex Box Stadium, since I left Louisiana in 2005 and have been back to the Bayou State only once, and that was after baseball season ended in 2010.

My mentor and friend, Bill Franques (Fran-kez) begins his 30th season as public relations director (technically, communications director or sports information director) for the LSU baseball program. Since Bill turns 55 in July, it means he has spent more than half his life in one place, which is remarkable. For three years (July 1997-June 2000), he technically was a member of the baseball staff as administrative assistant, and then-coach Skip Bertman had him doing other things, like team travel and budgeting. Bill also handles the public address for home games and radio color commentary for road games, so the guy wears many hats around campus. Not only that, but he’s a devoted husband to Yvette Lemoine and doting father to boys William and Benjamin, and daughter Madeline.

Here is a very good article from The Advocate (Baton Rouge) about Bill:

Bill Franques doesn’t like to hear it, but three decades at LSU make him an institution

I have many, many stories about how I have angered Bill through the years, and I might share them in the time leading up to the trip to Louisiana. I’m convinced the man deserves sainthood for putting up with me the way he did. So do a lot of other people. At least two of them have the last name Cox. Two used to work at a particular Buffalo Wild Wings. And three ladies from Hays who have tried to keep me healthy, both physically and mentally, as well as making sure my vision doesn’t get any worse.

College baseball season barely registers in these parts. Wichita State is nowhere near as good as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, and Kansas and Kansas State have almost always occupied the cellar of the Big Eight/Big 12. Missouri had its moments in the 1950s, but it is overmatched in the SEC. The only baseball that matters in this part of the world is happening in Surprise, Arizona, where the Royals are holding spring training.

Florida attorney general Pam Bondi said the state will seek the death penalty against Wednesday’s school shooter. Hopefully it doesn’t take 10 years to execute him if he pleads guilty or is convicted by a jury. I say 10 years because that’s how long it took for Ted Bundy to be put to death after his first conviction for the murders of two Florida State sorority sisters.

Speaking of Florida, tonight may be the last time I see Dawn. She’s moving to Florida next week. I’m afraid she’ll go the way of Brenda LeBlanc and many others I knew in Louisiana. Also, the Daytona 500 is Sunday. Not that I’ll watch much, if any, of the so-called Great American Race.

Another NCAA season in the books

The 2017 Division I college baseball season, and the entire 2016-17 NCAA athletic calendar for that matter, ended at 10:26 p.m. Central Daylight Time last night when Florida recorded the final out of its 6-1 victory over LSU in the second game of the College World Series championship series. 

The Gators won their first baseball national championship, joining a very select list of schools which have won national championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball. 

Only four have done it since the Associated Press began its major college football poll in 1936. Two of the four are Big Ten Conference archrivals Michigan and Ohio State. UCLA, which has one championship each in football and baseball and 11 in men’s basketball,  was the third until Florida. Two of UCLA’s Pacific-12 Conference rivals, California and Stanford, each claim national championships, but those were retroactively awarded by math formulas or other polls. 

Florida, Michigan and UCLA have also won national championships in softball. 

LSU, which won national championships in 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97, 2000 and 2009, came up short for the first time when making the CWS final round. The end of the CWS in the full double-elimination era (1950-87) depended upon how many teams were left after 12 games. The series could end in 14 games if one team went undefeated, or 15 if nobody did. In 1988, the format was changed to a single championship game contested between the winners of two four-team brackets. The best-of-3 series began in 2003. 

The Bayou Bengals were left for dead in Omaha after losing 13-1 to Oregon State June 19. The Beavers improved to 56-4 and won their 23rd consecutive game. LSU defeated Florida State to stay alive, but then would have to beat Oregon State twice to reach the championship series. 

Not only did LSU end Oregon State’s winning streak with a 3-1 decision last Friday, it completed the comeback the next day, 6-1. The Beavers collected only five hits over two games. FIVE. Thus Oregon State finished the year with a .903 winning percentage, but did not even play for the title.

LSU did this before. 

In 1989, LSU was in the regional at College Station, where Texas A&M entered the tournament 55-5. The Aggies, who smashed the Southwest Conference that year, outscored their first three regional foes (Jackson State, BYU and South Alabama) 65-13. LSU lost its second game to South Alabama, and thus had to defeat UNLV and the Jaguars on day three to advance to the final round,  where it would need to defeat A&M twice.

The Bayou Bengals pulled it off somehow. They won the first game 13-5 behind Golden Spikes Award winner Ben McDonald. In the winner take all game, McDonald came on in relief in the 10th inning and earned the win as LSU prevailed 5-4. 

LSU didn’t win the championship this year, but the season was far from a failure. Quite the opposite.

When Bill Franques and I parted company at 5 p.m. ET in Lexington the afternoon of April 23, neither of us had much confidence LSU would be one of the eight to make it to Omaha. LSU was 27-15 overall and 10-8 in the SEC after dropping two to Kentucky and needing an eighth-inning rally to pick up the one win it got. Some projections had LSU going on the road for a regional, and its chances of hosting a super regional were slim and none. 

Yet LSU steamrolled its way through the rest of the regular season (winning a share of the SEC championship) and the SEC tournament to earn the #4 national seed, one spot below Florida. The Bayou Bengals went 5-0 at home and were on their way to Omaha for the 18th time. 

I didn’t get emotional over the CWS this year. There were times in the past where I would get upset that I wasn’t in Omaha. I would let jealousy get the best of me, because people I knew were there and I wasn’t.

This year, I felt fine with being at home. I did not want to pay exorbitant prices for hotels (a halfway decent hotel costs over $200 per night during the CWS, and if you want to stay close to TD Ameritrade Park, you can expect to pay at least $350 a night), fight all the crowds and the heat just to sit in the bleachers. Reserved tickets on the secondary market for LSU games ran anywhere from $150 to $700. LSU games were twice as much as other games. The only other school I can see driving ticket prices that high is Nebraska. Of course, the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn’t like the Cornhuskers in the CWS, because their fans will commute back and forth from Lincoln. 

If I ever go again, I’ll probably have to stay in Kansas City or St. Joseph and commute the 2 1/2 hours up Interstate 29. But I don’t see it happening.

Here’s the good news for LSU: if history repeats tself, it will win it all in 2018.

Since winning their first title in 1991, the Bayou Bengals have won every nine years. They did it in 2000 and 2009, so 2018 is ripe. 

Need a break from college sports. Football hype is too much for me to take in late June. It’s only going to get worse. 

Louisiana comes to Kansas City

If you’re in Kansas City today, I have two words for you: AIR CONDITIONING. And lots of it.

There is an excessive heat warning in effect for the Kansas City area, which extends south on Interstate 49 to the Arkansas state line, and then into Kansas and Oklahoma. There is a heat advisory as far west as Salina and far east as Columbia. Summer is here in case you didn’t know it. Yes, summer does not officially start until Wednesday, but it was here on Memorial Day, and it is now unleashing its fully fury. 

The heat indicies they’re talking about in Kansas City today are common in Louisiana this time of year. Yes, I realize Kansas City gets hot and the humidity is worse than it is in Russell and points west, but this is oppressive. I hate to think how bad it gets in St. Louis. 

It stormed again last night. I went to bed a few minutes after midnight, just when it was getting cranked up. It didn’t prevent me from falling asleep. I finally got up at 9–there was no reason to really get up early–and made my way to Buffalo Wild Wings for a Saturday of trivia. I’ll eventually cross Barry Road and go to Minsky’s, where I went for an hour and a half yesterday. I was looking to go back in the evening, but when I went at 7, the parking lot was completely full. So I went back to Buffalo Wild Wings and played more trivia with Robb and Dawn, leaving at 8:30. 

I ate lunch with Peggy and Caitlyn yesterday at Yard House in the Legends shopping plaza, where the Kansas Speedway and Children’s Mercy Park, home of Sporting KC of Major League Soccer, are located. I really wanted to go for a steak or a big piece of fish, but I opted to just get the sashimi. Peggy paid, and I didn’t want to take advantage of her generosity. I hadn’t seen either of them since early May, and this was the first extended time I spent with them since the end of the basketball season in late February. 

The U.S. Open gollf tournmaent is in the thrid round in Wisconsin. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day all missed the cut. Jordan Spieth is well off the lead. Phil Mickelson didn’t even play, choosing to attend his daughter’s high school graduation in San Diego. Eldrick Woods? WHO CARES? Rickie Fowler is the biggest name in contention, trailing by one stroke at 8-under. He shot 71 yesterday after a 65 Thursday, which tied for the best opening round in U.S. Open history. 

Johnson will not be able to repeat as U.S. Open champion. It hasn’t been done since Curtis Strange did it in 1988 and ’89. This is the second consecutive major in which the defending champion has missed the cut; it happened to Danny Willett at The Masters. Willett has basically fallen off the face of the earth since winning at Augusta National 14 months ago. Sergio Garcia made the cut, but he’s probably too far back to make a run. 

People have complained about Erin Hills, the course hosting the tournament for the first time. Many do not like new courses thrown into the mix of the traditional sites, which include Oakmont, Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills, Baltusrol, Pebble Beach, Congressional, Lower Merion and Bethpage Black. Those players may have a point.
The College World Series starts in one hour. Cal State Fullerton and Oregon State, which has won 21 consecutive games and is the top ranked team in every poll, as well as the #1 national seed, open the festivities in Omaha. Then it’s LSU and Florida State at 7.  LSU is aiming for its seventh national championship and its second under Paul Mainieri, who led the Bayou Bengals to the title in 2009 at Rosenblatt Stadium, the penultimate year the CWS was played there. It moved to TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha in 2011. LSU has not fared well there, going 1-4 in two appearances, including an 0-2 trip (coloquially referred to as “Two and Barbecue” in college baseball lingo) in 2013 when LSU entered 57-9 and the #1 national seed. 

I went to Omaha in 1998 and 2003. Great experiences, but I am not big on the crowds. I certainly do not want to be in the heat, and not in the general admission seats in the outfield, where if you leave your seat, you might as well leave the park, because someone will swipe it. General admission seating is a terrible idea for college and professional sports. TERRIBLE. The NCAA should outlaw that for the CWS and other Division I events. 

LSU has won 15 consecutive games, and is 21-2 since I saw the series at Kentucky. Bill Franques, who is attending his 16th CWS as LSU’s baseball publicity director, told me as we departed April 23 he didn’t see LSU making it to Omaha, and he was worried LSU would have to travel for a REGIONAL. LSU has played in a regional away from Baton Rouge only once since 1990, in 2010 at UCLA, when it lost twice to UC Irvine. LSU did not make the NCAA tournament in 2006, 2007 and 2011. 

LSU’s prospects in a road super regional would have been very iffy, considering it is 1-6 all-time in super regionals away from Alex Box Stadium (old and new): 0-2 at Alabama in 1999, 1-2 at Tulane in 2001, and 0-2 at Rice in 2002. The 2002 super regional saw LSU get shut out in both games, the only time that’s happened. 

The other bracket tomorrow has Louisville playing Texas A&M and Florida battling TCU. TCU beat LSU twice in the 2015 CWS. The Horned Frogs are in Omaha for the fourth consecutive year under former Tulane assistant Jim Schlossnagle, doing something LSU has never done. LSU made it three straight years from 1989-91 and again from 1996-98, but never four. 

UGH. Some employee at Buffalo Wild Wings is playing nothing but horrendous hip-hop. I’m already getting nauseous.