LSU BASEBALL PROGRAM ONE OF NATION’S BEST
If anyone told me I’d be at a stadium watching a college baseball game in the middle of February, I’d wind my finger around my ear and hand him or her a one-way ticket to Rusk.
Well, that’s how I spent last weekend, at the four-team round-robin baseball tournament hosted in Baton Rouge at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Thanks to my grandson Logan Smith, who pitches for the Army Black Knights baseball team, we found out his team was staying at the Embassy Suites. So, we made our reservations to stay there too.
We arrived Thursday afternoon and found out that not only was Army staying there but the other two teams—Air Force and Louisiana-Monroe—were there too.
There were college baseball players and some of their immediate families all over the place. If one likes to talk baseball, they were in Seventh Heaven.
Army has been playing in this season-starting event for several years, perhaps because Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is a West Point graduate. In fact, Saturday night Edwards hosted a special dinner for the Army team at the governor’s mansion which had the cadets in full military dress.
Logan met us around 4 p.m. Thursday after the bus from the New Orleans airport arrived at the Embassy and he said he was hungry for a steak.
So, wife Susan and I took him a few doors down from the hotel to the Cadillac of steak houses—Ruth’s Chris—where we each ordered a 12-ounce filet and Susan settled for lamb chops. We had to eat rather quickly because Logan’s team was practicing at 7 p.m.
The tourney’s opening game featured Army vs. Air Force Friday at noon with Logan as the Black Knight’s closer. However, no closer gets to work when his team wins 17-2.
In an effort to speed up the games, a 20-seocnd clock was used in which the pitcher must deliver the baseball within 20 seconds after he receives the ball back from the catcher.
At the end of each half inning, teams were required to get on and off the field and finish their warm-up throws around the infield and outfield and the pitcher must be ready for the first opposing batter in 2 minutes. There were no violations of either new rule during the three Army games I watched.
Alex Box Stadium and Skip Bertman Field was renovated 10 years ago into a beautiful manicured ball park that would make most colleges and minor league franchises green with envy. It has natural grass on the playing field with artificial turf in foul territories.
The stadium has a seating capacity of 10,326, with room for another 2,000 fans on the bleachers and for standing room only. That seems like gobs of room for a college baseball game but at LSU, 9,000-plus of those seats are already claimed by season-ticket holders.
That proved to be a problem for our group which included three of Logan grandmothers, two grandfathers, his parents, an uncle and aunt and some cousins. One of these cousins was my one-and-only godchild who I don’t see very frequently.
Logan took care of our ticket dilemma because each player gets two complimentary tickets, and most of the players’ relatives were not there, so he hustled a bunch of unused tickets for our group.
LSU jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but the Black Knights tied the score at 2-2 and had the bases loaded with a 3-2 count on the batter.
The next pitch hit him in the elbow, but instead of Army getting the go-ahead run, the umpire said the batter stuck his elbow over the plate and was declared out. Even the LSU television announcers were astounded by that call. This got head coach Jim Foster ejected from the game.
But God must get even with cheaters because the next batter, first baseman Anthony Giachin, hit a shot off the centerfield barrier clearing the bases and giving Army a 5-2 lead. After going 5-for-5 against Air Force and driving in eight runs Giachin was the tourney’s big producer with his 11 RBIs in two games.
Despite a fictitious balk that was called, Army was still leading 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth and Logan was heated up and ready to come in from the bullpen. When the pitcher walked the first two batters on 10 pitches, the acting manager walked out to the mound.
Every one of the 10,000-plus fans were certain he was bringing in Logan, but instead he trotted back to the dugout. The very next pitch was walloped over the right field fence for a three-run game-winning home run giving LSU an undeserved 6-5 victory.
Foster must have been upset that Logan didn’t go into the game because he gave him the ball to start Sunday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe.
Logan threw three scoreless innings while his teammates hit a pair of homers giving the husky right-hander a 3-0 lead to work with.
The first batter in the fourth inning hit a slow dribbler that was misplayed for an error. Logan’s only walk and a base hit drove in one run and the score became tied when the left fielder misplayed an easy fly resulting in two runs scoring and a 3-3 tie.
Foster relieved Logan and his team couldn’t score another run, losing to the Warhawks 10-3.
It was a disappointing loss for Army, who finished the tourney 1-2 while the Warhawks went 2-1, Air Force 0-3 and LSU 3-0 after walloping Air Force 17-5.
LSU could remain the No. 1 team in the nation if they played all of their games this season at Alex Box Stadium.
But that’s not how the Southeastern Conference works and they will have to play their games on the road nine-on-nine and leave those four home-loving umpires in Baton Rouge.
KWICKIES…World class Jamaican sprinter Usian Bolt last month tied the NFL’s best time in history in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.22 seconds. Amazingly, he did it in gym shorts and sneakers from a standing start.
Two Orange County teams played their first game in the State Basketball Tournament last night. The West Orange-Stark Mustangs took on Huffman at East Chambers High School while the Orangefield Bobcats tackled Diboll at Warren High School.
Several major league baseball stars, including former Astros Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzalez, are still without new teams as the spring training exhibition games are set to begin tomorrow. The biggest names include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Boston Red Sox closer Chris Kimbrel.
JUST BETWEEN US…Coincidentally, the major leagues will experiment with the 20-second clock in their spring training games that begin tomorrow in an effort to speed up games that are averaging nearly 3½ hours. The intentions, according to Monday’s article by the Associated Press, is to get players and umpires accustomed to the clock in the event MLB makes the rule change for the upcoming regular season. The pitch clocks have been used in the high minors since 2015.