Scott Rabalais: Rain delays bring out creative side in ballplayers _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Severe weather moves through the stadium during a rain delay in Game 2 of the 2016 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional between Southeastern and Rice, Saturday, June 4, 2016, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La.

So what do you do in baseball when the rain delay will never end?

You could build an ark: The team with the most inventive design between LSU, Southeastern Louisiana, Rice and Utah Valley advances from here to the super regionals.

You invent games like Southeastern Louisiana and Rice players did while waiting futilely for their game to resume Saturday night. Rice players pretended to be shooting skeet with their bats and a ball tossed out of their dugout. SLU players lined up in front of their dugout, with one of them serving as a human tee while another pretended to use his bat as a golf club.

And of course, you sit in the dugout and tell stories.

LSU baseball great Ben McDonald, calling the game for ESPN3, combined both pursuits while sitting and watching the rain from the Alex Box Stadium press box. He told a story about making up a game with Cal Ripken Jr. during a long-ago rain delay while playing for the Baltimore Orioles.

“At Memorial Stadium, there was an old tunnel down under,” McDonald said. “Cal Ripken was as big a kid as I was. So during one delay, we went down and took socks and wrapped athletic tape around them and made a ball. We took turns hitting to each other and pitching during like an entire hour of a rain delay. Then some other guys came along and we had a tape ball game.”

Rice coach Wayne Graham, still going strong at 80, has been in baseball for more than 60 years all told. Naturally, he has a story or two.

One of the best stems from his brief stay in the major leagues playing for the 1964 New York Mets.

The Mets came into being in 1962, a National League expansion team created to take the place of the Giants and Dodgers after they moved to California. And they were awful, not escaping the National League cellar until 1966.

Graham played 10 games for the 1963 Philadelphia Phillies and 20 games for the 1964 Mets, who were managed by the legendary Casey Stengel. Stengel, by the way, was “just” 74 the season Graham played for him.

Graham spent as much time as he could around Stengel, soaking up baseball knowledge that would later serve him well as a coach. One day, though, on a charter flight, Graham was closer than Stengel thought.

Graham sat right behind a thin curtain that separated coach from first class, where Stengel sat along with beat writers from 15 (yes, 15) New York newspapers. On that particular flight, Stengel was lamenting his team’s lack of talent to one of the Mets’ reporters.

“How in the heck do they expect me to win with guys like Graham?” Stengel asked.

“That,” Graham once said, “was my first clue to look for another kind of job in baseball.”

Graham, by the way, wears No. 37. That was Stengel’s number, as well as that of 1948 Heisman winner Doak Walker, who an impressionable 11-year-old Graham once saw play in person.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri wears No. 1. You can see him in it in one of the many photos decorating his office at The Box.

One photo is of Mainieri and Graham from the 2008 College World Series, Mainieri’s first at LSU. They’re standing in front of the Rice dugout, Mainieri’s right hand clasping Graham’s right shoulder, both wearing wraparound sun glasses.

“I had that exact same picture except I had a Notre Dame uniform on” from the 2002 CWS, Mainieri said.

Mainieri took the Irish to Omaha that year where they lost 4-3 to Stanford. They faced Rice at 1 p.m. on Monday, June 17, in an elimination game.

“I had a photographer following me around,” Mainieri said. “I told him, ‘Hey, the coach over there is a legend. I want to go have my picture taken with him.’ So I walked over in front of his dugout and said, ‘Wayne, can I have my picture taken with you? He said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So we took a picture.”

Notre Dame trailed 3-2 before rallying to win 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth on a game-ending two-run home run.

“Six years later to the day, in 2008, we go to the College World Series with LSU,” Mainieri said. “We play North Carolina in the opening game and lose (8-4) on Saturday. Monday, we play that damn elimination game at 1 o’clock, and who are we playing but Rice University.”

Mainieri recalled the photo he took with Graham six years earlier — and how that game turned out.

“So I brought the photographer, same exact spot, in front of the first-base dugout at Rosenblatt Stadium, and I say, ‘Hey, Wayne, can get a picture with you?’ ‘Yeah, sure.’ Little did he know it was a superstitious reason I was taking the picture. The exact same pose, he was wearing gray uniforms, it was my wife’s birthday, the whole thing.”

LSU won 6-5 on a game-ending bases-loaded double by Blake Dean.

“Wayne’s a good man,” Mainieri said. “I like him a lot.”

But, Mainieri added, “I don’t think he’ll ever want to take a picture with me again.”

Not unless Graham has some time to kill during a rain delay.

-- Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.