Mikie Mahtook met with the local media for the first time as a professional baseball player Wednesday, not so much to say goodbye as to say see you later.
In a few days, he’ll be off to join the Tampa Bay Rays organization after agreeing to a contract just minutes before Monday night’s deadline. Though he understandably chose to skip his final year of eligibility at LSU, Mahtook still repeatedly referred to next year’s Tigers team as “we.”
In fact, he said knowing how good he expects “we” will be next season was one of the things that made his decision-making “nerve-wracking.”
“I just know what we have coming back and I really wanted to be a part of that,” Mahtook said.
But it was time for Mahtook to embrace the ultimate challenge for a baseball player.
“I will forever be a Tiger,” he said. “I grew up one. My dad (Mike) and uncle (Robbie) played football here. My mom (Mary Ann) went to school here. I will come to as many football games as possible, even if that means flying in on game day.”
He also plans to take in some early baseball games before heading to spring training.
“I will always consider myself a part of this family,” Mahtook said.
He made sure his name will be featured prominently in LSU’s annals by authoring one of the more memorable careers in the program’s history after arriving from Lafayette three years ago.
He earned All-America honors last season before the Rays selected him with the 31st pick in the first round.
As a freshman, he was a key player on the only post-Skip Bertman College World Series champion.
Coach Paul Mainieri said Mahtook became the “poster child” of his team “because of his enthusiasm, his energy, his love of our university and our baseball program.”
Mahtook said he owed it to Mainieri to call him moments after making his decision, saying he “teared up a little bit” during the conversation.
“That is one of the greatest kids that I have had the privilege of coaching in my 29 years in college coaching,” Mainieri said. “He gave his heart and soul to LSU and to LSU baseball for three years.
“Now it’s time for the baton to be passed on to the rest of the guys.”
Mahtook did that symbolically, arranging with Mainieri for his jersey No. 8 to go to one of his best friends, junior Mason Katz.
“I was like, ?Hey man, I don’t really want some freshman coming in with my number,’” Mahtook said. “I want it to mean something.”
Mahtook said Katz’s style of play closely resembles his.
“He plays the game hard, he plays the game fast, a little bit reckless at times,” Mahtook said. “He loves LSU and he loves this team. I feel like that’s what LSU baseball is all about.”
Mahtook would know.