OMAHA, Neb. — Mark Laird blames his brothers.
All of those opposite-field hits from the lanky, speedy junior?
Those are his brothers’ fault.
Laird is the youngest of four boys. He was only of T-ball age when the rest of his siblings were hitting 80-mph baseballs out of the pitching machine.
Little Mark wasn’t missing out, though. He wasn’t about to hit off a tee while his big brothers were smashing shots off the machine.
So he joined in.
Born from this: Laird’s opposite field-hitting magic.
“Me trying to catch up with them might have developed it,” Laird said.
The left-handed batter estimates that 75 percent of his hits in his three-year LSU career have come to the left of second base. The late-swinging, quick-handed kid has the natural tendency to do the unusual — slice the ball off the bat.
Just call him “Mr. Oppo.”
“He does it all of the time,” third baseman Conner Hale said. “You can almost guess what he’s going to do at the plate.”
Knock a line drive into left field, smack a chopper through the left side, bounce a blooper over the third baseman’s head.
Heading into LSU’s College World Series opener Sunday against TCU, Laird’s bat — and his glove, too — might come more in handy than ever before. TD Ameritrade Park is an expansive field where home runs are hard to find and speedy outfielders are at a premium.
Laird isn’t a home run hitter, and his speed in right field has led to this mind-boggling stat: He has never made an error in 419 chances over three seasons in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers normally lean on power-hitting Kade Scivicque, Alex Bregman, Jared Foster and Chris Chinea to keep one of the nation’s best offenses roaring. In this dead-ball arena, they might have to turn to Laird — Mr. Oppo.
This’ll be it for him: Laird plans to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies. They selected him in the ninth round with the 264th pick in the draft this week. He’ll be hitting “oppo” in the minor leagues soon enough.
Laird’s first memories in baseball are him pushing or slicing the ball, not pulling or hooking it — a rarity.
“A lot of guys have the tendency to pull the ball. That’s what they grew up doing,” Foster said. “He learned early on that hitting opposite field is a good swing. It fits him. He’s a fast player and the more balls he hits to the left side of the field, the more times he’ll be safe.”
Laird’s approach baffles other players. Outfielder Jake Fraley can’t understand how he can consistently go the other way. Fraley has seen Laird take the most inside of pitches to left.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who can take a 93 miles an hour fastball two balls on the inside part off the plate and still hit a line drive into left field,” Fraley said. “Takes a lot of hand-eye coordination.”
That’s the key to it all, coaches and players say. Players say Laird’s hand-eye coordination is the best on the team — not such a surprise for a player who came to LSU from north Louisiana as a receiver for the football team.
While most players hit the ball over the plate or in front of it, Laird hits it as late as near his back foot.
Laird hits the ball to the opposite field so much that hitting coach Andy Cannizaro actually wants him to pull the ball more. He’s normally trying to get guys to do the opposite.
“He’s locked in oppo,” fellow outfielder Andrew Stevenson said.
And it’s all because of his brothers. Well, that’s what Laird thinks, at least. He has no other explanation for it.
He never remembers being a pull hitter. At Ouachita Christian School in Monroe, Laird admits to trying to become more of a power hitter, pulling the ball when necessary. At LSU, he leaves that for the Scivicques, Chineas and Bregmans.
“My main focus is up the middle,” Laird said. “If I could hit a perfect at-bat, it would be a line drive up the middle. It gives you the opportunity to pull something if they come in and if they go low and away — most pitchers are low and away — you get the opportunity to hit it through the No. 6 hole.”
Laird pushes the ball so much that teams put on a defensive shift for him, playing a left fielder up and moving the infield left. And when they don’t? LSU assistant Will Davis normally smiles from his place at the third-base box.
“I get excited,” Davis said, smiling.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.