OMAHA, Neb. — Each time Alex Bregman reached for something in his locker, his run-costing error from the 2013 College World Series stared back.
The photo shows Bregman in a squat — glove down, eyes up — as the ball floated in midair just behind him, having ricocheted off the base of his glove. Above the photo was the banner headline, “No margin for errors.”
White tape kept The Advocate newspaper clipping on the wall of Bregman’s locker for a full year last season. The eighth-inning, two-out miscue eventually cost LSU in a 2-1 loss to UCLA in the 2013 CWS opener.
“It was a constant reminder for him of how much he needs to prepare and improve so that he could never let that happen to him again,” coach Paul Mainieri said.
The chance is here. Bregman and LSU get their shot to follow that rough opening act at the CWS two years ago with a much better encore.
The Tigers (53-10) face TCU (49-13) in a bracket-opening game at 2 p.m. Sunday with a lot on the line. After all, just one team in the past 16 years has lost its CWS opener and gone on to win the national championship (South Carolina in 2010).
LSU lost that opener that year and then dropped a 4-2 decision to North Carolina two days later — the Tigers’ first 0-and-2 trip in any postseason event under Mainieri.
Does it still burn the coach?
“Everybody keeps wanting to talk about the 0-2,” Mainieri said. “I don’t get aggravated with people but … we lost a 2-1 game and a 4-2 game. It wasn’t like we got blown out. It wasn’t like we weren’t competitive.”
For six players, the memory lingers. Andrew Stevenson, Mark Laird, Chris Sciambra, Jared Foster, Bregman and Chris Chinea were on that squad – one that, like this one, was the No. 1-ranked team in the nation entering the NCAA tournament.
Two-and-barbecue? That still doesn’t sit well.
“We’re not out here to go 0-2 like last time,” Foster said.
Foster was a reserve in 2013 and didn’t have an at-bat in the two games at the CWS. Bregman had eight at-bats and no hits. And, of course, that error.
On a warm Saturday afternoon, Bregman is peppered with questions before LSU’s final practice ahead of Sunday’s CWS opener. He stands on Bellvue East High’s baseball field, surrounded by two dozen reporters wielding cameras, microphones and recorders.
“It’s finally here,” he says with a smile. “One more day. One more quick practice, and it’s go time.”
UCLA’s go-ahead and eventual winning run scored from second base on his error. It irked him for several weeks — if not, months — after the game. He admits that Saturday.
How long did it take exactly?
“It took a while,” he says. “It wasn’t the way we wanted to finish.”
He’s moved past it now.
“We haven’t brought it up,” Foster said. “He went back after that year and that offseason really beared down. No one is perfect. Things happen like that.”
Not often to Bregman. He’s committed 36 errors in 871 chances over his three years — one of the reasons the Houston Astros will pay him about $7 million in a signing bonus after selecting him second overall in the draft Monday.
Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson was picked ahead of Bregman at No. 1. Swanson and the Commodores play in the nightcap Sunday against Cal State Fullerton. The losers and winners of LSU-TCU and Fullerton-Vanderbilt meet Tuesday.
So there’s a chance two of the nation’s best college players could clash on the same field. And wouldn’t that be something. Swanson and Bregman have a friendly rivalry.
“Our kids are always constantly kidding him about Dansby Swanson this and Dansby Swanson,” Mainieri said. “He loves Dansby, but you can see he needs to be pushed, because he wants to be the best.”
Just like that photo of the error. It stared back at him for so long. And, now, there’s a shot for LSU and him to replace the memory with another one.
“We’re going to go out there against TCU and leave it all out of the field and do the very best we can with confidence, with aggressiveness,” Mainieri said. “Nobody’s going to hold anything back.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.