OMAHA, Neb. — From near and far they come, from a thousand miles away in Louisiana to right here in Omaha, home of the College World Series.
Even in years when the LSU Tigers aren’t one of the eight teams competing for the NCAA baseball championship, some of their fans still come year after year, to a town and a time and an event that for many of them has become a home away from home, an annual rite of summer.
But now that the Tigers are back for the 17th time since 1986 — a fourth trip since 2008 under coach Paul Mainieri — LSU fans are expected to stream here by the hundreds and thousands, comprising one of the most loyal and impressive fan bases of any team here.
LSU’s ability to draw a crowd was evidenced during Friday’s practice and autograph sessions at TD Ameritrade Park, site of the College World Series.
Hundreds of fans watched the hourlong practice session. Hundreds more lined the concourse level from third base to well past the left-field foul pole, waiting for a brief moment with their Tigers.
Lynette Roberie, who drove here from Ville Platte, shuffled patiently near the back of the line. Friday was a cool day, certainly by Louisiana standards, and Roberie broke out the airbrushed LSU decorated jacket she made when the football team won the Southeastern Conference title in 2007.
The pregame plan for Roberie’s krewe Sunday in advance of LSU’s 2 p.m. CWS opener against TCU of course includes a football-like tailgate: “Crabs and frog legs,” she said.
She’s in for the long haul, here as long as the Tigers are alive, a trip costing thousands of dollars if LSU has to play to the end of the CWS championship series June 24.
Roberie is confident the Tigers can return home with a seventh national title — mostly.
“You have to be,” she said. “But they need to get the bats going, though.”
There is reason for that confidence. At No. 2, the Tigers are the highest of the eight national seeds remaining (only four made it to Omaha) and at 53-10 have the most wins of any team still playing.
LSU is riding a wave of winning into this year’s CWS. The Tigers have been a national seed for four straight years, a first for the program, and have won 203 games in those four seasons, the most of any team in Division I.
But a seventh national title has eluded LSU so far. The Tigers’ only previous CWS appearance during those four years was in 2013. LSU lost to eventual national champion UCLA and North Carolina and was done, only the fourth 0-2 CWS showing in program history.
Now the Tigers are back, armed with a veteran team that includes eight juniors and seniors in its starting lineup. If LSU can win, the program would move into solo second place for the most baseball titles ever, behind only Southern California (12) and ahead of Texas (six).
Derrick Linthicum wanted his family to experience LSU’s drive for that seventh CWS crown first-hand. He’ll be at the game Sunday with wife Kimberly and daughters Ashton, Emily and Bailey. For his two youngest, Emily and Bailey, it will be their first LSU baseball game anywhere.
The Linthicums recently moved to Omaha from Mobile, Alabama — Derrick to work for Kiewit, the construction company that built TD Ameritrade Park. Since moving here, he has gotten to experience the love Nebraskans have built up for the Tigers over the years because of their success and their rabid fans.
“Omaha loves LSU because the fans come whether LSU is here or not,” said Linthicum, who is originally from Biloxi, Mississippi. “I know of some restaurants changing their menus because of the LSU fans and people who get condos here when they come.”
Five young girls from nearby Council Bluffs, Iowa — Nicole Miller, McKenna Brown, Emily Albertsen, Brenna Jones and Kassie Larsen — were among the Tigers converts. They made their way through the LSU autograph line but didn’t stray too far, in hopes of landing their ultimate objective: pictures with LSU second baseman Jared Foster.
Asked who was the cutest LSU player in the long line of Tigers seated at a table signing autographs, all five pointed in unison at Foster and blurted, “The one on the end!” As the Tigers made their way out of the ballpark toward the team bus, with hundreds of fans still in their queue, Foster stayed back a moment to take pictures with them.
Dr. Daniel Richardson and his wife Bonnie Richardson’s affection is for LSU pitcher Jared Poché, who starts Sunday against the Horned Frogs. Daniel, a Baton Rouge resident who has a dental practice in Lutcher, Poche’s hometown, is a cousin of the Tigers left-hander.
Sunday’s game also will be a first at the CWS for the Richardsons, who hastily made their plans to attend after the Tigers eliminated Louisiana-Lafayette last Sunday in the Baton Rouge super regional.
“Bonnie has always wanted to come, and I said, ‘If Jared goes, we’ll go,’ ” Richardson said.
How much Bonnie gets to see Poché pitch is a bit of a question, considering her viewing habits back home when he plays.
“I have to get up and walk around the house,” she said.
If she gets up and walks around the ballpark’s concourse Sunday, she’ll run into plenty of other nervous LSU fans.