When he sat down with his team last week, 10 days before the start of the 2017 season, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri shared a story and a pair of short videos to put things into perspective.
The first video depicted the basic training Air Force Academy cadets go through the summer before their freshman year, known as Basic Cadet Training, or BCT. From his days as the Academy’s head coach, Mainieri knows BCT by its informal name — Beast.
The second video came with a story, also from his days at Air Force Academy. It was about Army pitcher Stephen Reich, who threw one of the greatest games Mainieri ever saw live.
Mainieri’s Air Force Academy team faced Reich’s Army team in a seven-inning game. Reich dominated the Falcons, recording 17 of the 21 outs in the game by strikeout. A year later, Air Force drew Army and Reich again, this time at home. Reich wasn’t as dominant, but he preserved a one-run Army win by striking out the side in the final inning.
Reich was, in Mainieri’s opinion, good enough to play at the next level, and he nearly did. Two years into his active duty commitment, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles and pitched in a pair of minor league games before the Army recalled him.
The rest is history, and this is the point Mainieri wanted to make. He played the second video, titled “A Soldier’s Story.”
Reich, then a major in the Army, was one of 16 who died when his Chinook helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade during the infamous 2005 “Operation Red Wings” mission in Afghanistan that was portrayed in the book and movie “Lone Survivor.”
When the video finished playing, Mainieri said there was not a dry eye in the room. He hoped the videos give his players a sense of the commitment for those visiting Baton Rouge this weekend.
With a pair of service academies coming to help LSU ring in the new season, it was a no-brainer for Mainieri to dedicate the weekend to appreciating those who serve.
For anyone who has spoken to Mainieri, who is deeply patriotic about the military and those who serve, it also should come as no surprise that he is coordinating quite the weekend when it comes to showing his appreciation.
This weekend is not just opening weekend. It is Mainieri’s grand show of thanks for those he considers custodians of our way of life in America.
Here’s a schedule of events for this weekend as it relates to LSU’s show of appreciation.
- The Air Force’s "Wings of Blue" parachuting team will deliver game balls Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As their name suggests, they’re not planning to deliver them from the dugout.
- LSU will recognize the entire Army (Saturday) and Air Force (Sunday) teams between the second and third innings as part of its ongoing “Soldier Salute.” Typically, a single veteran is honored near the home dugout as a short bio is read over the stadium speakers. This weekend, the entire teams will be recognized along the third-base line for the service they are about to make. As is customary with this tradition, LSU’s entire team will line up to shake the hand of each person being recognized.
- A member of the Louisiana National Guard will sing Saturday’s national anthem before the game and "God Bless America" in the seventh inning. Sunday, the Air Force Academy Drum and Bugle Corps will do the same.
- Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a West Point graduate, is scheduled to throw the first pitch Saturday.
- Sunday’s game will feature an F-16 flyover. Though he was still one signature shy as of Tuesday, Mainieri is also trying to get a Blackhawk helicopter flyover for Saturday’s game. He has already procured the ROTC cannon for that pregame ceremony.
The final touch to this weekend’s celebration of service will be a tribute to Reich, whose father, Ray Reich, will travel from his home in Connecticut to take part in the weekend.
Mainieri said he is hopeful the Alex Box Stadium crowd reciprocates the effort LSU put into recognizing the soon-to-be and former members of the armed forces with its loudest roar of the weekend.