LSU coach Paul Mainieri pointed to the setup of the pitching machine against which his players were taking batting practice Wednesday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium.
It was propped behind an L-shaped screen, with the cutout section being on the side of the mound a left-hander would throw from. The student manager feeding the balls into the machine did so with his left hand.
The pitches the machine spit out are the same regardless of what hand feeds them and the orientation of the screen. But Mainieri wanted to present the illusion that it was all coming from a left-hander.
The idea: the first two starting pitchers LSU will face this season are left-handers from Notre Dame, and Mainieri is taking extraordinary care to make sure nothing his team sees this opening weekend is a surprise.
“I’m a big believer in routine and guys feeling, on opening night, like they’ve been there before,” Mainieri said. “There is going to be enough anxiety on opening night. Everybody is going to have it, and anybody that says they don’t have it is lying. At 60 years old with 36 years in the business, I have anxiety on opening night.
“I want to take as many of the unknowns as possible away.”
He went to impressive lengths to make sure no stone was left unturned when LSU takes the field against the Irish for the opening game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Tuesday, his players went through a mock-pregame introduction. They rehearsed the national anthem and saw their names and pictures flashed on the big screen beyond the left field bleachers.
When they took the field, they practiced the national anthem again, this time as it would be performed before midweek games, when the starters stand at their positions surrounded by kids from the stands — one wrinkle Mainieri could not quite finagle into his preparation.
“Now, we didn’t have kids out there,” Mainieri said. “I contemplated sending the student managers out there to pretend they were the kids from the stands, but I decided to cut it off there.”
When they took pre-scrimmage infield practice this spring, the familiar Alex Box pregame playlist blared over the stadium speakers just as it does when they take pre-game infield practice.
When LSU’s players have come to the plate in recent scrimmages, they have done so to their preferred walk-up music.
It goes beyond sights and sounds, encompassing feel as well.
Each player has worn every single uniform in LSU’s set in at least one practice this season — including the digital camouflage hats LSU will wear at some point this weekend. Nothing LSU wears in a game this season will be worn for the first time that day.
“The first time the new players put on their jerseys and had the name on the back, you should have seen them in front of the mirror checking it out,” Mainieri said. “Well, now it’s old hat to them. There is not going to be one new thing that’s taking away from them opening night, they have already dealt with that.”
It all sounds a bit trivial, but Mainieri said the goal is to get the team in as relaxed a state as possible.
The last thing he wants is for a heart to flutter when a player hears his name announced just before an at-bat, or for another to tug on the sleeve of a uniform he is just figuring out doesn’t feel right.
“The more things that are not going to be unknown, the more they can focus on playing the game and doing things the right way,” Mainieri said.
LSU had a team meeting Wednesday, roughly 48 hours before opening day. The subject? The proper procedures to distribute tickets to friends and family members.