This town, this night, this crowd
Come on put ’em up
Let me hear it loud
— “This Town,” O.A.R.
When it comes to sporting events at LSU, Saturday nights in Tiger Stadium are the purple-and-gold standard.
It’s the suffocating heat, the deafening noise, the beat of a bass drum.
And the bourbon. Let’s be honest.
The 102,000-seat behemoth looms beyond the outfield wall of Alex Box Stadium, like El Capitan lording over Yosemite Valley. But on this Saturday night, like a few special Saturday nights every spring, Tiger Stadium’s little brother takes center stage.
And at The Box, on nights like these, with so much at stake, the ballpark can be just as intense. Just as electric.
Just as … well, lubricated.
The emotions of nearly 12,000 LSU fans — and a few of their new rivals from Coastal Carolina — will be on edge in a cauldron of taut inning-on-inning action Saturday night as the Tigers and Chanticleers tangle in Game 1 of the best-of-three NCAA tournament Baton Rouge super regional.
“Twelve thousand fans,” said LSU junior Jake Fraley, who will be able to see them all from his starting spot in center field. “It speaks for itself. They love their baseball, they love their sports here at LSU. That’s one of the many reasons why a lot of guys, a lot of women, like to come play sports here.
“They’re the best fans in the country. I have friends at smaller schools, and that’s the first thing they talk about — how cool it is to play in front of people like that. You don’t take it for granted. You understand how fortunate and blessed you are to play in front of people like that.”
To the winner goes a trip to college baseball’s promised land: Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series.
For Coastal Carolina, it would be a first. Its baseball program has come this close twice before only to lose in super regionals to big brothers North and South Carolina, bitter geographically laced disappointment for the teal-colored team from South Carolina’s Low Country.
“We’re trying to make history,” said Connor Owings, the Chanticleers’ heavy-hitting right fielder who earned a degree in history from CCU just last month.
For LSU, Omaha has become the program’s manifest destiny, the name stamped in enormous silver letters on a wall in the clubhouse, should any player or coach let every season’s all-or-nothing goal slip their mind. The Tigers, who are playing their 200th NCAA tournament game Saturday night, own the best winning percentage in NCAA tournament history (.719). You win a lot of games when you make 17 trips to Omaha in 30 years and come away with six national titles.
But first, a potboiler back home with the jambalaya pots and the barbecue pits against a team that somehow LSU has never faced on the diamond. That makes CCU a team that has never faced the scene that is Alex Box Stadium with a title on the line.
Andrew Beckwith, Coastal Carolina’s starting pitcher for this game, grew up in South Carolina but has Louisiana ties. His grandfather went to LSU and once, while making a trip through Louisiana to visit family, Beckwith snuck in an open gate to see what The Box looked like.
Andrew, my boy, it will look a lot different with 11,000 to 12,000 people in it, some of them shaking stuffed possums at you.
“We’re happy to get a chance on this stage,” Beckwith said. A stage four times bigger than CCU’s home ballpark. A stage bigger than CCU itself.
Alex Box seats 10,326 fans. Nearly 11,800 shoehorned their way into the ballpark last year when LSU hosted UL-Lafayette in an Atchafalaya Spillway showdown. If the weather holds — please, let the weather hold — similar numbers can be expected this weekend.
Coastal Carolina’s entire enrollment is 10,000. That means you could put CCU’s whole student body in The Box and no one would have to resort to standing room only.
There will be plenty of SRO folks Saturday night, folks who will disdain sitting at home in front of the flat screen to be part of the scene. It’s that intoxicating, that delicious, that magnetic.
This town, this city, this crowd
Stand up on your feet
Put your worry down
Come on y’all let’s take this town
“Any time I get to go out and play in Alex Box Stadium is awesome for me,” said sophomore Alex Lange, LSU’s fireballing right-hander who will start Game 1 against Beckwith. “That’s the reason why you come to LSU, to play in front of crowds like this.”
So whether you’re packing The Box or watching from somewhere else in the world, enjoy the scene here Saturday.
This town. This night. This crowd.
There’s nothing like it, either.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.