So much had to happen for freshman pitchers Alex Lange, Jake Godfrey, Doug Norman and Jake Latz to be here together at LSU.
Latz passed on nearly $1 million offered to him by a major league team during draft week in June. Godfrey, a longtime Notre Dame commitment and fan, fell short of meeting that school’s qualification standards. Norman, once a Georgia commitment, wouldn’t be here had the UGA coaching staff not been fired two years ago and had his parents not changed their minds about him playing 13 hours from home.
There’s another thing, too: None of them were afraid to be part of a No. 1-ranked signing class full of highly recruited stars.
“I think it’s weird for how good our whole freshman class is that we all came here,” Norman said.
They’re here, all right — four of the nation’s top pitchers at one school in one class, and all of them from more than 13 hours away from Baton Rouge. Three are Midwesterners, and Norman’s from South Carolina.
It’s unusual for such a hotly recruited crop of pitchers to sign together.
Godfrey is the seventh-highest-rated right-handed high school pitcher last year to enroll in college, according to Perfect Game’s rankings. Latz is the 10th-best lefty to enroll in college, and he’s the highest-drafted high school player to attend a Division I school.
What’s that all mean? LSU has two of the top 20-30 freshman pitchers in college baseball, something only Stanford and North Carolina can claim. Meanwhile, Lange was ranked as the 52nd-best righty last year, and Norman was 85th.
All four will be competing for weekend starting spots when practice begins Friday, coach Paul Mainieri said — a group that also includes returning starters Jared Poche and Kyle Bouman. The competition is likely to continue through the monthlong preconference schedule.
Don’t call them the “Fab Four.” It’s far too soon for that.
They are the “Freshman Four,” and they already impress a guy who isn’t easily impressed.
“What they bring skillwise — the stuff they bring in — it’s very enticing,” pitching coach Alan Dunn said.
So what kind of stuff are we talking about here? During an hourlong interview last week, the four pitchers sat around a table in the team’s meeting room dissecting one another’s own arsenal.
Lange, a broad-shouldered 6-foot-3, 205-pound Missourian, is referred to by at least one of the other four as “flamethrower.” Lange’s fastball hit 97 mph once while he was closing a high school game.
He remains humble.
“It was one time,” he insists, glancing at the others.
He’s the bookworm of the group, a 4.0 student who’s majoring in finance. According to some around the program, he’s ahead of the others — though not by much.
Norman, a 178-pounder who’s less ballyhooed than the others, is the one with the unusual delivery. A changeup-throwing hurler, Norman has a hitch toward the top of his throwing motion.
“I think (Dunn) called it ‘snaky,’” Norman said.
The others chuckle. Snaky? Really?
“It’s funky,” Lange said.
“The feedback from the hitters is they say, ‘It’s hard to pick up,’” Norman said. “I hide it. It’s weird.”
Norman has a connection to LSU beyond any of the others. His mother was raised in Baton Rouge and attended LSU along with her two sisters. Her parents still live in Baton Rouge, and Norman’s grandfather has taught physics at LSU for 50 years, he said.
Norman is a self-proclaimed “die-hard football fan” and a guy who was “a wreck” after LSU’s overtime loss to Alabama in November.
“There’s a picture of me — not even 1 year old — in an LSU jumpsuit,” Norman said.
The Jakes — Latz and Godfrey — have more in common than their first names.
They grew up 15 minutes a part in a pair of small towns south of Chicago. They’ve played against each other since ninth grade, and each of them led their teams — in different classifications — to Illinois state championships last year.
They’re roommates at LSU, and at times, they finish each other’s sentences.
“We always talked about where we’re going (to college),” Godfrey said. “I even tried to … ‘Let’s go to Notre Dame.’”
Godfrey is the biggest of the four, standing 6-3 and weighing about 215 pounds. His build matches a fastball that hovers in the low- to mid-90s and has a “tail,” he said.
“It moves more,” he said.
Latz, 6-2, 198, has the most astonishing high school stat of them all. He allowed two earned runs during his senior year. Two.
He has a nasty curveball that serves as his out pitch. He’s the guy who turned down about $900,000 to come to college, a place he now must stay for three years before he’s eligible for the draft again.
The decision wasn’t easy.
“It’s hard,” he said.
Godfrey, as he often does, breaks in to finish Latz’s thought.
“You can either sit in the minor leagues and have big league pitching coaches teach you there,” Godfrey said, “or sit here for three years and have the same thing — you have big league pitching coaches here.”
Here, of course, is a long way from home for all of them.
Norman, from Fort Mill, South Carolina, and Lange, who grew up outside of Kansas City, are each about a 13-hour drive away. The Jakes are about a 14-hour drive from home.
It’s tough on the parents. They’ll make it when they can — fly or drive. Meanwhile, their sons continue to adjust to a new region.
The South and the Midwest have their differences.
Lange wondered on a Saturday this fall why exactly the roads were shut down near Tiger Stadium. They wouldn’t let him drive to the stadium? What was this madness?
“The tailgating … I didn’t understand why the entire campus was covered in tailgaters. It was crazy. It was something I’ve never seen before,” Lange said.
There’s the food, too.
Lange has fallen in love with boudin and crawfish. The Jakes have the same favorite Cajun cuisine (go figure): blackened alligator.
“That’s gooood,” Godfrey said.
All four attended every LSU football home game last season. Norman and Lange even drove to Arkansas and sat through freezing temperatures to watch LSU lose 17-0.
Where’d they sit?
“Right in the middle of the wooh pig,” Norman said, referring to the Arkansas section.
How’d that go? “Not well,” he said flatly.
The thing about this group of four: It could have been — and was briefly — five. The headliner of the class, Mac Marshall, transferred in September — a stunning development that shocked just about everyone.
Norman and Marshall were roommates. They were all friends. All of them have moved past Marshall’s abrupt exit.
“For me, he threw a bullpen, and it was like he was gone,” Godfrey said. “It’s not like we ever really had him here.”
Five’s an odd number anyway. This is the Freshman Four.
Soon enough, they’ll be competing as rookies for the right to start a weekend game at a Top-10 ranked program in the nation’s best baseball league.
The competitive juices are flowing — even if it’s a game of pool.
“I was just beating him the other night,” Norman said with a glance to Lange. “What was it, like five straight?”
Lange glared back: “Two straight.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.