LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro said it best:
“#RivertoOmaha” he tweeted Sunday afternoon, killing one of the long stretches of idle time that has marked this NCAA Baton Rouge regional.
The stock phrase is of course “Road to Omaha,” as in the road to the home of the College World Series. But not this year. Not at LSU, where the infield tarp has gotten more playing time by far than anyone on any of the participating teams.
It’s late spring in Louisiana, so there’s almost always going to be rain. And it’s rained in regionals and super regionals here before. Come down in buckets and torrents and sheets like someone had opened some great floodgates in the sky. If Randy Newman had just passed on the inspiration that made him write the song “Louisiana 1927,” he’d probably have penned something soulful about inundated baseball tournaments around here.
Baseball makes for good verse, and good sports movies. Put the two together and you’ve got Robert Redford’s Roy Hobbs circling the bases in the rain after literally knocking the cover off a ball in a thunderstorm as Newman’s soundtrack played in the background.
(Nice how that all came together, isn’t it?)
But this rain has been relentless. Day after day of it. So much rain that in a regional that started Friday it took until around lunchtime Sunday to complete the second game of the schedule, with Rice toppling Southeastern Louisiana 7-2.
If there’s one saving grace, it’s been Skip Bertman Field at Alex Box Stadium. As in, the field named for LSU’s great coach and the field in the ballpark he long wanted to build before it finally opened in 2009.
The old field at old Alex Box Stadium drained like, well, a sponge. That is to say, not at all. They brought in helicopters to try to dry the field on a couple of instances at tournament time — a kooky idea, I’ve always thought — and had to fill so many outfield holes with sand one year it looked like crackers floating on a sea of grassy gumbo.
But this field at The Box, Part Deux, has taken enough rain to float an ark and not only not turn into a mud bath but held up remarkably well. Cudos to the Skipper and the architects who put this place together.
If the rain didn’t turn the place into a quagmire, it did create other threats from an LSU perspective, primarily to the Tigers’ all-important pitching rotation.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri went with No. 2 starter Jared Poche in Friday’s regional opener against Utah Valley, holding ace Alex Lange in reserve until this game, the so-called “marble game” of the regional. Win this game and you’re 2-0 and have to be beaten twice not to win the regional. There’s no point in not throwing your best. It’s not to say there’s no tomorrow, but without a win tomorrow is well, looking pretty cloudy.
The risk for LSU on Sunday night was starting a game with Lange that might have gotten stopped after just a couple of innings for a lengthy delay that would not have allowed him to return. Then you’ve burned your ace for want of very little work and forced to try to advance to a super regional having lobbed your two best artillery shells at the opposition.
Somewhat fortunately for LSU, it didn’t turn out that way Sunday night. Lange was able to pitch into the sixth, holding onto a 4-2 lead before the tarp regained its starring role on the infield.
Lange got touched up for a couple of runs, losing a bit of his overpowering stuff while Rice starter Jon Duplantier seemed to get stronger.
Frankly, Duplantier couldn’t have started much worse. He walked the bases loaded in the first inning before Greg Deichmann steamed a double past first base and under the bench in the LSU bullpen in the right-field corner.
Rice right fielder Charlie Warren made the mistake of making an attempt to pull the ball out from under the bench, triggering a baseball rule that changed Deichmann’s hit from a ground rule double that would only have scored two runs at the time to one of baseball’s rarities – an inside-the-park grand slam.
Now, if we’re going to praise the construction and design of The Box, we must also criticize the folly of having the bullpens in play in a modern new ballpark. LSU had a clean slate with which to work on this site. It would have been so easy to put the bullpens out of controversy’s way behind the outfield wall.
On balance, it’s a minor criticism, though.
The biggest problem is there isn’t a retractable roof over the place.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.