Did you hear it, during some of the rare quiet moments at Alex Box Stadium this season?
A pitch intended for the target set up by catcher Michael Papierski instead bites the dirt in front of the plate for a ball. Jared Poché, LSU’s bulldog left-hander, barks out a four-letter word in disgust, mean-mugs Papierski with his glove outstretched and stabs the throw back to him in anger.
What follows is the best part. Invariably, Poché will stride purposefully back to the mound, take the sign and use every bit of what he’s got to get the guy across from him out. More often than not, that’s what happens.
This, his everyman fallibility, is what makes Poché great.
It’s the swear words clearly ringing in the quiet, the constant trouble he finds himself in, followed by his never-say-die Houdini escape acts. It’s the self-deprecating humor after a start, good or bad.
It’s even his stuff, which unfairly gets categorized as below average because people are so accustomed to seeing supreme athletes throw the ball 95 mph.
No, his stuff is fine. Poché takes great pride in knowing that he just somehow blew an 87-mph heater past another team’s slugger, or a slow curveball that kissed the dead spot on a bat and resulted in a double play.
His stuff is grit.
That has made Poché arguably one of the most popular players of the Paul Mainieri era at LSU. People identify with the rawhide-tough Louisiana boy. He is them as they would like to imagine themselves.
They also see in him what Mainieri sees in him.
Take this from Mainieri after Poché logged six scoreless innings against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference tournament to move within one of LSU’s all-time wins record.
“I have (seen it before), but it doesn’t happen as frequently, that a player gets the maximum out of his ability,” Mainieri said. “When his career is over, he should have no regrets about his career because he got everything out of every ounce of his talent.”
Such a player does not dominate on a week-in, week-out basis, although Poché did just that in a brilliant start to the season.
He was a tour de force through five weeks. He fired a no-hitter in his first start of the season, then carried another no-no into the ninth inning of his next start. He did not allow a run until March 18, and through five starts he was 5-0 with a 0.25 ERA.
It was about as close to a perfect start as he could’ve possibly managed. But Poché would not have been who he is if he did not follow that with some imperfection.
There have been days when Poché was hit around the yard, leading to an early exit. There have been others where his command left him, and still more when he made the right pitches but the ball found holes behind him.
And still, he is here, in Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series — a hugely important cog in a machine that is running at peak proficiency.
Poché decided to return for this reason, but also for another one. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 14th round after last season. He figured he was ready to call it a career and move on to professional baseball.
But then the Padres did something few around these parts would understand: They didn’t show a strong desire to have him around.
Whatever the reason, the organization did not seem to make Poché a priority. Their signing bonus offer did not meet what Poché thought to be a fair number, their amount of contact with him not indicating he was someone they needed in their organization.
Maybe the Padres were cooled a bit by the imperfect nature of Poché’s game. Perhaps they didn’t truly appreciate his ability to carve himself out of the tangled mess of his own making. They surely couldn’t have been thinking about those curses coming from a competitor’s mouth at a near-empty minor league ballpark.
Maybe the Padres saw those aspects as failings instead of what makes Poché great.
LSU — the baseball team and those that follow it — will continue to gladly take the Padres’ loss.