By John Ventola
Father’s Day weekend. Omaha, Nebraska. College World Series. A Saturday in June numbered 17. LSU baseball.
As a red-hot LSU baseball team takes the field tonight in an opening round game of the
2017 CWS, the Tiger fan base has a bit of historical success to reminisce about when they harken back to this specific date and the other particulars I mention in the opening paragraph.
With apologies to Yogi Berra, “It’s like Déjà vu all over again.” History, at least parts of it, does repeat itself.
This year’s edition of Tigers will take on Florida State tonight. They come into their 18th CWS on a 16-game winning streak, putting together consistent hitting and steady pitching after floundering almost half the season. Coach Paul Maineri seems to have a little of the “Bertman Touch” as he generally gets all the pieces together to make an annual post-season run. All Tiger faithful will give him a pass on Stony Brook and Coastal Carolina, winners of Super Regionals at Alex Box Stadium. Coastal Carolina went on to win the 2016 College World Series.
Buoyed by four draftees who returned for their final seasons to make another run at Omaha, this team’s late season revival has been fun to watch. Kramer Robertson, Cole Freeman, Greg Deichmann (who was drafted in the 26th round by Minnesota as a draft eligible sophomore), and Jared Poche all contributed as expected, and Alex Lange pitched solidly all year, regaining some of his freshman year velocity to become a first-round draft choice.
Freshman Josh Smith handled his third base duties like a veteran, and Antoine Duplantis and Zach Watson patrolled the outfield with outstanding athleticism while
contributing speed on the base paths. Catcher Mike Papierski decided to again switch-hit after exclusively batting right-handed late last season and became a tough out while still supplying solid play behind the plate.
Another freshman, Eric Walker, was more than a third position starter down the stretch, mixing pitch speeds and location to befuddle opposing hitters. Walker could very well pitch against top-ranked Oregon State Monday if the Tigers can best the Seminoles tonight.
Caleb Gilbert, Zack Hess, Hunter Newman, Jake Slaughter, Nick Coomes, Jordan Romero, could all play significant roles if the Tigers are going to bring home their seventh national championship, the second under Maineri.
Meanwhile, back to that June 17th Saturday in 2000. Father’s Day weekend. Instead of being the opening game of the CWS, it was the championship game. The final game. At that time, there was no two out of three in the finals, just the two teams left standing playing for all the marbles in one game.
That year Coach Skip Bertman and his ballclub went on a patented late season run, winning the SEC Tournament and finishing post season play on a 13-game winning
streak. The Tigers faced off against Stanford, armed with outstanding pitching. After falling behind 5-2 LSU, behind homers by third baseman Blair Barbier and left fielder Jeremy Witten tied the game 5-5. Catcher Brad Cresse drove home Ryan Theriot from second base with a single to left field in the bottom of the ninth, giving LSU its fifth and final championship under Bertman.
Why can I sit here and type this blog without any reference? Simple, I was at my first College World Series game in that 2000 final, and the entire trip is permanently etched in the pleasant section of my memory bank.
My only son, Chad, called Thursday and asked if I would like to fly to Omaha for the final game if LSU won that night, which they did. God sure looks after people. We flew into Omaha late Friday night, getting to the hotel around 11 o’clock. No tickets in hand. Nervous, with the game starting in 14 hours (1 the next afternoon), I asked the desk clerk where Rosenblatt Stadium was located. He pointed outside and said to just go right, walk across the bridge that runs over the interstate, and the stadium is right there on the left.
Talk about a sleepless night. Up at 4 a.m., wanted to be one of the first to get in line for tickets. After all, I had brought a good deal of cash thinking we would have to pay a good amount to get into the stadium.
As I reached the stadium, I could vaguely see people sitting in a line along the wall. We walked up at 4:20 a.m. and took our spot. Sitting there with only a little light, I asked the
person next to me what time the ticket office opened. I can still remember his reply. “You don’t have tickets?” He explained most of the grandstand were probably sold and the line I was sitting in was for entrance into the first come, first serve outfield seating area.
Guess the poor guy saw the panic on my face. From Lafayette (UL-Lafayette had been eliminated a couple of days before), the gentleman told me to relax, wait to about 7 and he would call his wife at the hotel. He thought they had some extra (booklets could be purchased for outfield seating, 12 tickets for $36, and they could be used for any game, including the championship.
He called his wife at 7 o’clock, told her to bring any extra tickets, and at 9 o’clock he handed me and Chad our tickets for the LSU-Stanford championship matchup.
“That will be $6”. What? Yes, $3 a ticket. Louisianans, you gotta love them.
Great game, great Tiger comeback. Thrilling victory. But it all pales in comparison to the memory my son Chad and I shared that Father’s Day weekend.
Next morning, we had to dash to the airport for the Father’s Day trip home, catching a connecting flight out of Minneapolis to New Orleans. Aboard were many Tiger fans, including Wally Pontiff Sr., whose son Wally, Jr., was the Tigers’ designated hitter in that title game. A former collegiate pitcher, like myself, you could just see the happiness and joy on his face. A Father’s Day to remember.
Sadly, just two years later, Wally Jr. died at the age of 21.
Fond memories. They can be fleeting, for a number of reasons. It is best if we can hang on to the pleasant ones.Thanks For Visiting JV Sport Shots .Com’s Website And Viewing Our Latest Blog(s) / Page(s). We Would Really Appreciate It If You Would Leave Us A Comment Or Remark Below. This Helps Us Provide Great Sports Content; You Would Like To See In Future Posts.
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