The LSU Tigers had to beat Coastal Carolina on Sunday night to even have a chance of getting back to the College World Series.
With or without them, Chris Guillot, the tireless cheerleading fan who roams the concourse and brings Alex Box Stadium to a boil, will be there.
LSU’s first trip to Omaha was in 1986. Guillot has gone every year but once since 1989, when a family scheduling conflict in 2014 kept him home.
Next weekend, when the CWS roars to life for its annual two-week stay in the heartland, Guillot will be strolling through the Old Market downtown. He’ll dip in to Ted and Wally’s for the homemade ice cream. He’ll stop in Twisted Fork for an appetizer (try the chicken fried bacon, with a nitroglycerin tablet chaser), maybe at a table near his photo on the wall, greeting the locals who have become old friends.
“It’s the people,” Guillot said. “They open their arms wide to you. I get Christmas cards from people there. I go down there in my purple and gold, and they’re either, ‘God, we’re glad to see you,’ or, ‘Why didn’t you bring your team?’ ”
Guillot is one of a small but hearty band of LSU fans that makes a trip to the CWS an annual occurrence, whether the Tigers make it there or not.
Considering LSU has been to Omaha 17 times in the past 30 years, having the Tigers there isn’t far from an annual occurrence. But fans like Terry LeBlanc of Larose fill in the gaps even when LSU falls short.
LeBlanc plans to stay in Omaha for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, the start of which overlap with the CWS championship series that begins June 27. The trials are held at the CenturyLink Center, a basketball arena that looms beyond TD Ameritrade Park’s center field fence.
“This year is going to be great,” said LeBlanc, who has been going since 2007 and also attended the Olympic trials in 2012.
LeBlanc said LSU years in Omaha are “party time.” When it’s not, “it’s a little boring.” But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy himself even then.
“When you’re there in a non-LSU year and you’re wearing your purple and gold on the street, people will stop their cars to share their LSU story with you,” LeBlanc said. “It’s usually about a tailgate party when they didn’t know what they were eating.”
Eating is a big part of any Omaha trip. The city is one of the great steak capitals of the world, but any variety of meat products will do.
Guillot likes to eat like a local, visiting places like Louie M’s Burger Lust on Vinton Street near downtown or Clancy’s Pub out on Pacific Street in the Elmwood Park district of town for its baskets of fried gizzards. Then there’s The Drover, an old school midtown steakhouse that’s a pilgrimage stop for many a CWS regular.
“I go to The Drover and see all the coaches there,” Guillot said. “Augie (Garrido, the now ex-Texas coach) is always there.”
Joy Hammatt and her husband, Bruce, have been to Omaha 16 times, three times without the Tigers making it, since 1991.
Since Bruce has a function to attend in Toronto, the Hammatts won’t go to the CWS this year if LSU’s not there. But if the Tigers survive Coastal Carolina, their plan was to drive 15 hours from Baton Rouge to Omaha, catch the first game or two, drive more than 14 hours to Toronto and drive back to Omaha if LSU is still playing.
“In 1991 we flew, but we took so many beads and cups and stuff, the next time we drove,” she explained. “The people in Omaha can’t get enough of LSU. People there are in LSU clothes every year. LSU is their favorite team. It’s almost like a cult following.”
The friendships run deep. The grandchildren of people the Hammatts annually see on Omaha recently came to stay with them in Baton Rouge. And Guillot has struck up a friendship with ESPN college baseball analyst and Omaha-area native Kyle Peterson, visiting with him at every CWS.
“Our sons are the same age,” Guillot explained. “They hang out together (during the CWS).”
LeBlanc has a taxi driver named Don he uses every year in Omaha.
“He texted me (Saturday) night to wish us good luck,” LeBlanc said. “Don knows he makes more money when LSU is there.”
LSU fan motivation takes many forms.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.