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:
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.
I am now less than five days away from attending what will be, at least for me, my biggest social event to date in this millennium.
My dear friend Brittany Davidson and the love of her life, Zachery Morgan, marry Saturday in St. Joseph. Their reception follows at 7 p.m. at a downtown ballroom.
I cannot and will not miss it. Brittany has been one of the best things to happen to me, at the very least since moving to Kansas ten years ago. I have to argue she ranks above almost everyone else right now, only trailing my family, Peggy Cox and a select few others as to people who are of utmost importance into my life. As far as Buffalo Wild Wings goes, she’s 1A right now with Liz, but she’ll move to 1 alone when Liz leaves for Colorado Springs very soon. If Zach won her heart for life, he is a hell of a man. I’m honored they would want me to share in their big day.
That’s about all I could think about during my long and arduous travels through Nebraska and back into Kansas last Friday. I enjoyed the pictures at the former Rosenblatt Stadium, T.D. Ameritrade, the Cornhuskers’ Memorial Stadium and the Nebraska capitol, but the countdown to the big day for Brittany and Zach is really gnawing at me. In a very good way.
Brittany has told me time and again she wants me there. She does have some concern that I will lose my cool and melt down as I have in the past, but those fears aren’t as bad as they might have been before I started therapy with Crista.
I’m sure a lot of my friends at Buffalo Wild Wings, especially Alex, Tori, Raymie and the recently departed Lisa, will also be sad if I din’t make it. Don’t want to let them down.
Crista has really helped me put my life together. I still have my flaws and my concerns, but who doesn’t?
I have only been to two weddings in my life. The first was in July 1997 at a small chapel on the LSU campus between Adam Young, a former colleague of mine in the LSU sports information office, and former LSU volleyball player Luciana Santana, who came to LSU from Sao Paulo and ended up staying, much to the benefit of everyone at LSU. They now make their home in Bossier City in northwest Louisiana. I was not going to go at first, but Michael Bonnette, who was a groosman, convinced me to go. He and Robin (who was six months pregnant with their first son, Peyton) was there, as was Lee Feinswog and Brenda LeBlanc, who had been married less than a year at that time.
The second wedding was the Saturday before Thanksgiving 1999, when Bill Franques married Yvette Lemoine in Bunkie, her hometown. My father has nothing but bad memories of Bunkie; it was in the Avoyelles Parish town where a large rock casued a huge crack in the windshield of the family’s Oldsmobile station wagon during our June 1986 trip to Russell. Fortunately for my dad, (a) we sold the station wagon one month later to purchase my mother’s new Oldsmobile Delta 88; and (b) he only had to drive through Bunkie one more time, since Interstate 49 was completed to bypass Bunkie by 1990.
Bill and Yvette met at Michael’s July 1995 wedding in Opelousas. Yvette and Robin Arnaud were best friends at Bunkie High, and they took turns standing in each other’s wedding, although Michael did not attend Bill’s because he was on LSU business with the women’s basketball team in California. Bill and Yvette dated for four years before getting married, and some of us associated with LSU’s baseball team, led by Bill’s close friend, Dan Canevari, and equipment manager Mike “Bones’ Boniol, teased him mercilessly about Yvette. I joined in sometimes with trainer Shawn Eddy and assistant coach Bill Dailey.
Yvette was not a frequent topic of conversation at the Ivar’s sessions with Bill and Jim Schwanke. We had other things to worry about.
I was not in any mood to drive from Baton Rouge to Bunkie that day. I had been sick most of the week week with diarrhea and vomiting; it sometimes came out simultaneously at both ends. I won’t go into any more detail. The night before the wedding, I covered a high school football game between Eunice and Capitol at Baton Rouge’s Memorial Stadium (Capitol 9, Eunice 0) and ended up going out to eat with some peple thereafter, not returning to my apartment in southeast Baton Rouge until after 1 a.m.
The next morning, I was groggy and still not 100 percent, but I got dressed and made the drive northwest. I got to the church in Bunkie at 11:30 for the 1 p.m. ceremony. Bill and I actually talked for a few minutes before the church opened.
The reception was in Cottonport, another small town in Avoyelles Parish. I lasted 20 minutes. I decided to get back to Baton Rouge before dark.
No such worries this time. I’m staying in St. Joseph. I’ll be well-rested. And I don’t want to leave my friends too early.
I got back to Russell just before 7 pm.. Friday–in time to watch a Shark Tank rerun. I have not left 1224 North Brooks since.
I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. I was feeling miserable after all that went on, although it gave me time to do my laundry in the wee hours. I barely slept, but somehow, I was out of Russell just before 10 a.m.
I am convinced McDonald’s breakfast is the worst restaurant food ever created, at least food which does not come from that hellhole Spangles. I stopped at the Russell McDonald’s on my way out of town, and long before I got to Salina, I was feeling sick to my stomach. The Russell McDonald’s is especially horrible, since they barely put the English muffins in the toaster, and they look very sickly and soggy. I like mine crunchy. If I see black on the edges, I know I’m in good shape. But Russell NEVER puts theirs in the toaster. Another reason to avoid that place.
I got some food at Burger King in Abilene after using the restroom, but I could barely eat it. I was able to eat a couple of croissants and down a frappucino from Starbucks in Junction City, but that breakfast still wasn’t sitting well all the way past the eastern toll plaza of the Turnpike between Tonganoxie and Bonner Springs.
I veered south for the first time since the August 28 meltdown and went to Lukas Liquors in Overland Park after a brief stop at a Bank of America ATM. I bought three more six-packs of Abita Beer, two of which are fall seasonal brews, Pecan Ale and Oktoberfest Lager, as well as Andygtor, the bock which is 8.0% alcohol by volume, meaning under Kansas law, it must carry a higher price.
I was hoping Lisa Toebben would be done with her doctor’s appointment and work tonight, but she isn’t, so I gave the Andygator to Tori Weber, who really enjoyed the Strawberry lager I gave her Monday night. Alex Mullinax got the Oktoberfest, and I’m guessing I’ll give the Pecan to Brittany Mathenia-Tucker, although that could change.
Elizabeth Psenski reiterated she’s moving to Colorado soon. That has me really depressed. Another person comes into my life and becomes an important part of it, and boom, he or she ups and leaves. I understand why she is doing it. She has to improve her life. But here I am again, almost 40, trying to find a stable friendship, It has rarely, if ever, happened. I can go on and on and on about the people.
It started way back with Rosemarie Renz and Lisa Syrdal from St. Robert Bellarmine. Rosemarie and I reconnected at Arabi Park, but then I left her, Stacie Datuerive, Toni LaRocca, Lara Doyle, Tammy Gilbert, and saddest of all, Allison Richardson (rest in peace) when I left for Brother Martin. Of the guys, I’ve at least reconnected with Shawn O’Neil.
There weren’t any students at Brother Martin I missed, but there were teachers and coaches. I didn’t get to say goodbye to Bob Conlin when he passed away too soon. I cry over Janine Koenig, my very first teacher at the school. I wonder about Rebecca Hale, my favorite Tulane booster.
LSU and Baton Rouge? The bridges are burned enough to span the Mississippi River from the Louisiana State Penetentiray at Angola, near the Mississippi state line, all the way to the Hale Boggs Bridge in St. Charles Parish. Who should I begin with? Let’s see:
- Bill Franques, Michael Bonnette, Herb Vincent, Jim Schwanke, Dan Canevari, Bill Dailey, Laurie Cannon, Fred Demarest, Wendy and Sid Wall, Erika Goulas and the entire Borne clan at LSU,
- Robin Fambrough and a whole bunch of others at The Advocate.
- Brenda LeBlanc is by far and away the biggest casualty from Baton Rouge, but as for other coaches, there’s Dorinda Beaumont, Beverly Russell, Bill Bofinger, Dale Weiner, Kenny Almond, Sid Edwards and Guy Mistretta, just to name a few.
Kansas isn’t even safe. Larry Mills, why have you forgotten about me? It’s not limited to you, though; half of Norton has basically flushed me down the toilet. I’m sure Morgan Baumann, Lacy Keilig and many others would like to see me burn or otherwise hasten my demise. I haven’t made any friends in Russell other than Larry Bernard and Mark Paul, who’s now at Ulysses. I’m sure many at Smith Center want me sileneced after that fiasco at the state volleyball tournament a year ago.
Without Liz at Buffalo Wild Wings, why come to Kansas City? I don’t know how much longer Lisa and the Brittanys will be here. If they’re gone, why bother? Braidey Howe has tried to convince me to keep coming. I don’t know.
Lonely days. Lonely nights.
Two events happened in the sporting world 20 years ago today. One affected my life directly. The other didn’t, but it certainly affected tens of millions of sports fans in one way or the other.
Second thing first. Today marked the first day of the 1994 Major League Baseball players’ strike. The strike would wipe out the postseason, which was supposed to be the first year of the wild card and expanded playoffs. The strike would not be settled until April 1995, when U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor–the same Sonia Sotomayor who now sits on the Supreme Court–issued an injunction forcing the owners to reinstate the 1993 collective bargaining agreement and let the players come back.
The event which affected my life took place in Baton Rouge. It was LSU’s football media day, where Curley Hallman would preview his fourth season as the Bayou Bengals’ coach, coordinators Lynn Amedee (offense) and Phil Bennett (defense) would talk about their respective units, and the players would be available for one-on-one interviews with members of the media.
Looking back on it today, Hallman was very lucky to have been LSU’s coach in 1994. The Bayou Bengals were awful during the first seven games of 1993, with the lowlight being a 58-3 loss at home to Florida. I understand Florida was on its way to the SEC championship and 11 victories, the last being a thumping of then-undefeated West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl, but no SEC team should lose by 55 points in their home stadium unless the talent gap is grossly unfair, which was the case for Kansas and Kansas State when they faced Nebraska and Oklahoma in the 1980s.
Yes, LSU was in a down period in the early 1990s, bottoming out at 2-9 in 1992. However, there was more than enough talent for the Bayou Bengals to at least remain competitive in the SEC, even if they would go 2-6 or 3-5 in the league. There’s no way LSU should have been in the depths with the likes of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and at that time, the two new additions to the league, Arkansas and South Carolina.
Hallman saved his bacon by taking LSU to Tuscaloosa 28 days after the debacle vs. Florida and stunning the defending national champion Crimson Tide,, ending Alabama’s 31-game undefeated (there was no overtime in college football regular season games until 1996, so ties were still unusual, although not rare, during this era). The Bayou Bengals had a chance to go to a bowl game in ’93, but Arkansas came to town two days after Thanksgiving and shredded LSU’s defense by running the Wishbone to death, scorching the Tiger Stadium sod for 412 yards rushing en route to a 42-24 victory.
Following the ’93 season, Hallman made his only coaching staff change which ever made sense by terminating defensive coordinator Michael Bugar, a longtime friend, and installing defensive ends coach Phil Bennett in the position. Bennett enjoyed a stellar playing career at Texas A&M and promoted an aggressive, attacking style which he learned while playing for the Aggies under R.C. Slocum, who was then a defensive coach at A&M, and later would become the head coach at College Station in 1989.
At media day, Bennett proved to be the only one of the three speakers who had a clue. Hallman rambled on as usual and did his best to dance around as many reporters’ questions as possible, and Amedee looked like he had no interest in being there.
The 1994 season would pretty much bear out that media day. Bennett’s defense was first in the SEC, but Amedee’s offense was beyond putrid, especially in game at Auburn when the other Tigers won 30-26 despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. The end result: a 4-7 record, and Curley Hallman was fired with two games remaining, although he was allowed to coach those games, which turned out to be victories over Tulane and Arkansas.
The more important facet of LSU’s 1994 media day were the people I met that day.
I already knew Herb Vincent, LSU’s sports information director, from a meeting we had in July 1993. We kept in touch through the year, and he let me watch the 1993 football game vs. Utah State from the press box. Herb had achieved a great deal by August of 1994, even though he was still 16 months shy of 35. Herb graduated from LSU, where he worked in the sports information office under the great Paul Manasseh, and after stints with the USFL’s Los Angeles Express and the SEC office in Birmingham, he was hired full-time at LSU in early 1988. In August 1988, when then-sports information director Jamie Kimbrough took a post at South Carolina, Herb was promoted to the top job.
Herb brought in a pair of brilliant men, Bill Franques and Kent Lowe, to serve as his associates.
Bill was assigned to baseball, where he learned the ropes from the master, the one and only J. Stanley (Skip) Bertman, eventually taking over the duties of public address announcer at Alex Box Stadium and color commentator for the radio broadcast of away games. Bill also does a lot of work on the television side with the coaches shows, and he’s the co-host of LSU Sports Journal. He will enter his 27th season as LSU’s baseball publicity director when the 2015 season opens in February. I hope one day he’ll one day join Skip and his current boss, Paul Maineri, in the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Bill deserves sainthood for putting up with me and my many, many, many mood swings. He could have easily kicked me to the curb, and nobody would have blamed him, least of all me. But he stuck by me and became a better friend than I ever deserved. I still miss our lunches at Ivar’s Sports Bar in Baton Rouge. Ivar’s is worthy of its own post, and I’ll get to it soon.
Kent came to LSU after a distinguished career as the publicity director for Louisiana Downs, a thoroughbred race track in Bossier City, across the Red River from Shreveport in the northwest corner of the state. Kent was at LSU in the late 1970s and early 1980s to earn his master’s degree, and it was then he met Bayou Bengals men’s basketball coach Dale Brown. The two men kept in touch throughout the 1980s, and when the position as Brown’s publicity director came open, Herb knew where to turn.
Kent and I were not as close during my days at LSU, but I have nothing but admiration for him. He could easily have become very frustrated by the struggles of LSU’s men’s basketball program through many years, but he kept his cool, he kept smiling and he kept a positive spin on everything no matter how bad things were. Kent is beloved by all in the LSU athletic department, as well he should be.
Also that day, I met two other people who would become woven into the fabric of my life.
One was Dan Borne, the public address announcer for LSU football and men’s basketball games. Dan is a native of Thibodaux, a bayou town about 75 miles south of Baton Rouge. Thibodaux is hard-core Cajun, and many of the people there and the rest of Lafourche Parish speak French as their first language. I was quite familiar with Lafourche Parish, since every year I was at Brother Martin High School, the Crusaders would venture deep down the bayou to Galliano to play South Lafourche in football. Galliano is only 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and much of that area was nearly wiped off the map by Hurricane Betsy in 1965, and bore the brunt of Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Since Katrina made landfall in Mississippi, Lafourche did not take nearly as bad a hit, but it was bad enough.
Dan came to Baton Rouge in the late 1960s and was an anchor for WAFB-TV, the CBS affiliate, throughout the 1970s before being named Executive Assistant to Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards in 1976.It was Dan who had the terrible responsibility of briefing the press on October 20, 1976, the day a drunken ferry operator killed 72 people (not counting himself and five other crew members, all of whom were also soused to the gills) by guiding a boat full of cars into the path of a tanker on the Mississippi River in St. Charles Parish. The tanker sliced the ferry in two and sent cars into the muddy river.
Dan gave up that post when his third child, and second daughter, was born four days before Christmas 1976, or 69 days after I was. The girl born December 21, 1976 to Daniel and Lissette Borne would alter my life, both good and bad, in ways I could never imagine when I first met her that fateful August Friday in 1994. Dan has been president of the Louisiana Chemical Association for nearly 30 years, and he has been very effective lobbying Louisiana’s legislature and the state’s Congressional delegation for issues which are extremely important to his native state–and mine.
I have a lot I want to discuss regarding Rebecca Borne, but that’s a subject which I need to think through, because I’m sure I’m going to feel a very wide range of emotions.
Rebecca was valedictorian of the St. Joseph’s Academy Class of 1994. St. Joseph’s is an exclusive all-girls Catholic school in Baton Rouge, one which has produced hundreds of movers and shakers in Red Stick. Strangely enough, her older sister, Elizabeth, chose to attend Baton Rouge High, a public magnet school with a reputation as one of the nation’s best. Dan and Lissette’s two sons, David and Jason, opted for Baton Rouge Catholic, the all-boys equivalent of St. Joseph’s in Baton Rouge. Catholic is run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who also run Brother Martin, my alma mater.
Coincidentally, the volleyball coach who came to St. Joseph’s four months after Rebecca graduated also has played an important role in my life. She”ll be the subject of a post or two or three very soon.
I nearly forgot about Adam Young, who was a senior and a student assistant in the sports information office when I came to campus. Adam became a good friend to me and gave me a chance to write for Tiger Rag, a publication devoted to LSU athletics, during my third year of school. Adam, who grew up in Alexandria in central Louisiana, was nice enough to invite me to his 1997 wedding where he married Lucy Santana, who came to LSU from Brazil and was a standout volleyball player. They settled in Shreveport after the wedding.
Adam and Lucy’s wedding was one of only two I have attended; the other was Bill’s to Yvette Lemoine in 1999 in Bunkie, a small town 100 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.
One person I did not meet at LSU’s 1994 football media day was Michael Bonnette, who became LSU’s sports information director in August 2000 when Herb left to take a position at a now-defunct television network in Birmingham. Michael, who had just been given a full-time position in LSU’s sports information office following a year as an intern, was in the hospital recuperating from knee surgery after tearing ligaments during a recreational softball game. He would not come back to work full-time until the week of the first football game that season, which also happened to be the first week of college classes for me.
Michael has done a great job in succeeding Herb. He had the unenviable task of navigating the choppy waters surrounding Nick Saban’s tenure, not that it was choppy on the field, but Saban has had a reputation of being difficult. It seems Michael really enjoys being around Les Miles, and Les really appreciates him.
Coincidentally, Herb is back in Birmingham as Associate Commissioner for Public Relations for the SEC. He’s been leading the drive to launch the SEC Network, which finally comes to fruition at 5 p.m. Central Thursday. I was thinking Herb would be in line to succeed Joe Alleva as athletic director at LSU, and he still may do so, but he’s got financial security for himself, his lovely wife Jamey, and their daughter Kennedy in Birmingham. I’m sure they’ve got a very nice home in a gated community in Hoover or one of the other upscale suburbs. He deserves it.
Sadly, one person I met that media day is no longer with us.
Shelby Holmes, who graduated as valedictorian at Baton Rouge’s McKinley High School a year before I graduated from Brother Martin, was shot and killed last October near his home in an apparent robbery gone wrong. Shelby lived in a rough neighborhood about a mile and a half north of the LSU campus, and he had his problems–we all did–but he had his life together when he tragically died.
I’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane. If you like it, please let me know.