It happens about once a week, Warren Morris says.
Maybe he’s walking the streets of Alexandria, where a 60-year-old man in jeans tells him he got so excited when Morris hit his game-winning home run that he fell off his lawn mower.
Or he’s sitting behind his cozy desk at Red River Bank, where a woman, clad in purple and gold, launches into a tale about how she missed the first half of a wedding to watch Morris slug his championship-winning homer 20 years ago.
Maybe he’s attending a Little League Baseball game, where a middle-aged man explains that he and some buddies stopped their car on the interstate, got out and circled the vehicle in celebration after hearing Jim Hawthorne’s call of Morris’ shot against Miami.
Or he’s eating dinner at a local restaurant, where a married couple describes how, during Morris’ walk-off winner, they were purchasing a vehicle at a car dealership.
“They say they named that vehicle after me,” Morris says. “The Warren Morris Car.”
Morris’ two-run, two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth-inning blast gave LSU the national championship in 1996, toppling Miami 9-8. Twenty years later, it remains the only two-out, game-winning, ninth-inning homer in a championship game in College World Series history.
It is the shot, a screeching blast heard around the college baseball world, a smoking line drive that permeated the LSU community.
Morris’ homer turned a current LSU assistant coach — then an 11-year-old boy — into a Tigers fan while he watched with his father from their home in Pensacola, Florida. The play nearly brought down a Baton Rouge bar, images of broken bar stools and shattered tables still stuck in the owner’s mind two decades later.
Cars on Nicholson Drive honked in celebration, some of them completely stopping amid a wild scene just blocks away from Alex Box Stadium.
Weddings were missed. Some were made — barely. One groomsman, during his ceremony, received updates on the game from a friend sitting in the church pews. They had worked out a signaling system.
Several people missed Morris’ home run completely, giving up on the Tigers after Tim Lanier struck out for the second out. One man walked outside to water his grass, rushing into the house seconds later after bloodcurdling screams from his wife.
Fans at summer baseball games huddled around portable televisions and radios. Officials at a softball tournament in Bunkie stopped the game, pumping the radio broadcast into the stadium speakers for all to hear.
Andy Cannizaro, the Tigers’ current hitting coach and recruiting coordinator, was standing at shortstop during a summer ballgame in Hammond when Morris hit his homer. The stands erupted.
“Next thing you know, word got from the dugout to the third base coach of the other team to our third baseman to me,” he says. “It worked its way around the field.”
The College World Series championship series begins Monday. It is the 20th title round since Morris’ memorable blast.
Where were you during that improbable homer? Every LSU fan has an answer.
“The Warren Morris home run is the Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald of LSU sports,” says Derek Ponamsky, a radio host on Baton Rouge’s WNXX-FM. “Everybody remembers exactly what they were doing and where they were.”
Says Kevin Shipp, LSU’s starting pitcher in the title game: “I had people tell me they were in the bathroom. It’s amazing. It’s a moment in history where people will go to their grave knowing what they were doing for that five minutes.”
“I always get that question: ‘What’s been the best part or the biggest change in my life because of the home run?’ ” Morris says. “I think that’s it. I don’t think I’m different from I was then, but because of that moment and hit, I’ve had hundreds of people want to share their stories.
“It amazes me how much detail they have — where they were, what they were doing, how they celebrated. I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years.”
At the bar
In 24 years of owning Ivar’s on Perkins Road, Pat Quigley never saw a celebration like he did June 8, 1996 — the day Morris slammed Robbie Morrison’s curveball out of Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium.
He restocked beer three times that day, and the bar didn’t close until after 4 a.m. By law, the legal closing hour was 2 a.m.
“Guess I can admit to that now that I’ve sold the place,” Quigley says with a chuckle.
The watch party at Ivar’s, a cozy dive under Interstate 10, drew more than 200 people. Quigley even set up indoor bleachers at one end of the bar.
The place cheered when, down 8-7, LSU’s Brad Wilson led off the ninth with a double down the left-field line. Justin Bowles grounded out to first, moving Wilson to third, before Lanier’s strikeout on a full-count curveball.
Forty-three seconds passed between Lanier’s swinging miss and Morris’ championship-winning shot off the first pitch.
“The place just erupted,” Quigley says. “I had never seen an eruption like that — even when the Saints won the Super Bowl or LSU won the national championship in football or LSU beat Alabama. That was craziest day in Ivar’s history. I can’t begin to tell you how many shots we poured after that.”
People on the top row of the indoor bleachers leapt so high their heads went through ceiling tiles. At least three bar stools were left in pieces. A couple of tables were shattered beyond repair. Floor tiles were ruined, and the bathrooms — oh, man, the bathrooms.
“The place was a wreck,” he says.
That championship game began at 12:10 p.m. and ended at 3:19 p.m., according to the box-score. That left plenty of time for fans to leave their watch parties and extend the one at Ivar’s. People filtered in and out until 4 a.m. When someone new walked in, the first question was always the same: “Where were you?”
“Everybody had a different story,” Quigley says.
No one had a story quite like Herb Vincent, then LSU’s sports information director, who was at the championship game. He returned to Baton Rouge that evening on then-athletic director Joe Dean’s private plane and drove straight to Ivar’s to meet some friends.
About five hours before he walked into Ivar’s, then-LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman put Vincent in charge of the national championship trophy — a tradition that began during the Tigers’ first title under Bertman in 1991. Bertman would hand Vincent the trophy on the field at Rosenblatt.
“Take care of this,” he’d tell him.
Vincent pulled into the Ivar’s parking lot that night with the 1996 CWS championship trophy in the trunk of his car. A few minutes later, it found its way into the bar.
“One of my friends, John Haefner — we called him ‘Beef’ — walked in with it and held it over his head,” Vincent says. “The place went crazy. They put it behind the bar the rest of the night.”
In the stands
“I don’t care if you write it,” Joy Hammatt says. “I peed my pants.”
You might know Hammatt more by her nickname: Bead Lady. That’s what some called her, at least in Omaha, when she showed up for LSU games at Rosenblatt Stadium with purple and gold beads slung around her neck and draped over her hands — easy access for parade-like tossing.
Hammatt has gone to Omaha 16 times, including three trips in which LSU didn’t make it. The then-41-year-old sat several rows behind the third-base dugout, the one LSU occupied, during that 1996 title game. A few rows in front of her were Sandy Bertman, Skip’s wife, Joe Dean and friends of the Bertmans, Richard and Susan Lipsey.
Standing next to Dean, in the aisle, was Chris Guillot, known to many as the LSU baseball program’s “Super Fan,” a then-33-year-old whose booming voice was screaming those same chants fans hear today at Alex Box.
He had just ended a “Here we go, Tigers!” chant when Morris banged his home run.
“Next thing I knew, I was hugging,” Guillot says. “Next thing I knew, I was crying. Next thing I knew, I was on the top of the dugout. I just thankfully had my pants on.”
Speaking of pants ...
“I literally peed my pants,” Hammatt says.
People were high-fiving and hugging complete strangers. Guillot, as he noted, ended up on the roof of the dugout. Sandy Bertman rushed down to the field to be with her husband.
Marvin Dugas, better known as The Big Ragoo, leapt from a camera stand where he and a buddy had watched the game in folding chairs. The camera stand was even with the on-deck circle. He got one of the best views of anyone. Morris’ line drive chased down the right-field line and cleared the wall in about 4 seconds.
“Most amazing thing I ever saw in my life,” Dugas says. “I preceded to go nuts and jumped off the camera stand.”
And then what? A 47-year-old single man at the time, Dugas ran up and down the first row behind that third-base dugout.
“I kissed all of the pretty girls,” he says.
In the dugout
Lanier needed to be reminded that there was one more out.
Returning to the dugout after he struck out, Lanier put away his helmet and bat, took off his gloves and glanced down at an empty dugout bench. Everyone rested his feet on the first or second step of the dugout.
Lanier took a few seconds to sulk after that strikeout.
“(Assistant coach) Jim Schwanke turns around and says, ‘Let’s go. Get up. This thing’s not over yet,’ ” Lanier says. “It snapped me back in the moment. I go to step up on the top step (of the dugout), and by the time I get one foot up, he hit it.”
Bertman rested a foot on the top step of the dugout. As Morris walked to the plate, the only thought to enter the coach’s mind was the gaping hole between Miami’s first and second basemen.
“Warren could hit one through there and tie it up,” Bertman says he thought. “I didn’t get much chance to think of anything else, because he hit the first pitch.”
There was no dugout railing back then, just two to three concrete steps leading out of the dugout’s concrete floor and onto the field. Kevin Shipp stood on the top step, too.
Lanier’s strikeout had an already-depressed Shipp sinking lower. Here were the things running through his head:
“Oh, man, I’m the losing pitcher.”
“Oh, crud, this could be it.”
“The season is over.”
Forty-three seconds later ...
“Wow,” Shipp says. “We rushed out and went crazy. A lot of guys were fighting us and holding us back to make sure he touched home plate.”
Paul Mainieri, LSU’s current baseball coach, and Greg Deichmann Sr., the father of LSU’s current first baseman, didn’t realize it then.
But they were both doing the same thing at about 3 p.m. June 8, 1996 — sitting on the edge of a bed, their eyes focused on the television while dressed in their finest wedding garb, ushering away their wife and kids during the intense moment.
Mainieri, his second year as Notre Dame’s coach just complete, missed the first part of his sister’s wedding in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while waiting for that game to end. Deichmann barely made the start of his friend’s wedding in Cincinnati.
Deichmann’s son, Greg Jr., served as a stand-in for Warren Morris during the filming of an SEC Network documentary on the play. “The Walkoff” premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday.
“They came to practice, and they got the bat out of the Hall of Fame,” the elder Deichmann says. “They put Morris’ jersey on Gregory. They filmed him in the batter’s box doing what (they) wanted him to do.”
But back to that day in 1996 ...
“I was glued to the TV,” Deichmann says.
Mainieri, too — so much that wife Karen and his two young children left him to go to the wedding. He arrived several minutes later, sliding into a front-row pew and whispering into his wife’s ear.
“I said, ‘LSU won. You won’t believe it!’ ” he recalls.
Her response: “Shut up. You’re in church. Your sister is getting married.”
A couple of hours before Mainieri’s wife fussed at him, Vincent Borne and his wife were being hitched at Church of Assumption in Franklin. The wedding began a few innings into the championship game.
“I had a friend giving me signals of the score during the wedding,” says Borne, now a state court district judge in St. Mary Parish. “The priest mentioned the game. He started out the ceremony, ‘We gather here to pray for the LSU Tigers.’ ”
Dogpiles and ceiling fans
Monticello, Mississippi — that’s where Lisa Reid was, at a reunion of her husband’s side of the family, mostly Mississippi State and Ole Miss fans.
Then 29, Lisa was seven months’ pregnant with a boy she would name Chris.
“We came inside toward the end of the game. They weren’t watching it. They were all Mississippi fans. They said, ‘Game is over with, man. Watch all you want,’ ” she says. “We got to run outside and tell them, ‘It wasn’t really over!’ ”
Chris Reid now starts at third base for the LSU baseball team.
Nolan Cain is LSU’s volunteer assistant and a former Tigers pitcher — two things that might not have happened had Morris not rocketed that ball out of Rosenblatt. That day, watching in his living room with his father, he became an LSU fan.
“I didn’t know anything about LSU baseball. He hit that walk-off homer, and I fell in love with LSU. It’s weird to think, you know?” he says. “If I don’t see that play, you start to wonder if I would have gone to Florida, gone to Mississippi State or Ole Miss.”
A majority of the tales Morris, Bertman and others hear from fans involve one of two things: a dog pile and a ceiling fan.
“About 40 to 50 percent of the stories involve somebody jumping up and hitting their hands or head on a ceiling fan,” Morris says.
Adds Herb Vincent: “People dogpiling. I heard more stories about people dogpiling in their living room and running to the backyard to dogpile.”
Ponamsky did that. His family’s cookout stopped on the sound of Morris’ dinger, and they jumped on top of each other.
“We dogpiled on the living room floor of my mom and dad’s house,” he says.
Luis Garcia’s story is more X-rated than any of them.
In 1996, Garcia was a 26-year-old who was just a few years removed from his playing days on the LSU baseball team. The Miami native attended a South Beach pool and watch party. He remembers being the only LSU fan there, decked in shorts, his old LSU baseball jersey and cap.
Badgered much of the game, Garcia let wild when Morris’ ball soared over that wall. He leapt onto a table and stripped.
“Some articles of clothing came off,” says Garcia, now a Miami restaurant owner. “I ended up scantly clad, running around a South Beach poolside bar. I was clutching my LSU hat and nothing else.”
Garcia raced around the venue, running nude between, at and around Miami fans. He ran, clothes-less, out of the bar and into his truck, where he sped home.
“I think I ran mostly because I was embarrassed,” he says. “And then I ran mostly because I was going to get in a fight.”
On the field
Striding down the first-base line, Morris saw Daniel Tomlin jump off the ground from his position in the first-base coach’s box. That’s when he knew he had hit a home run.
Running between first and second, Morris saw Miami infielders splayed on the ground, scattered on the dirt like dropped flies. That’s when he knew he had won the College World Series.
“I wasn’t thinking it was a home run,” Morris says of his immediate reaction. “I knew when it came off my bat that it was hit well and low. I was running hard trying to hit second base.”
Tomlin, then a volunteer assistant coaching first base, remembers jumping high into the air in the coach’s box as Morris cruised by. Quickly, his attention turned to his job.
“Somewhere when he rounded second, I remember seeing all of the guys going crazy,” says Tomlin, now a health and PE teacher at Alexandria High. “I was thinking I need to get down there and make sure he touches home plate. Those guys were just going nuts.”
Jason Williams had the shortest walk to the celebration. He stood in the on-deck circle as the team’s starting shortstop and leadoff hitter. Morris batted ninth in that game.
“I knew Robbie Morrison was one of the top closers in the nation that year. I was trying to get my timing down. I was trying to get ready,” he says. “It happened so fast because it was the first pitch. ...
“Everybody rushed out of the dugout. I was bombarded by everybody. I was standing there living the moment, watching Warren run the bases and the Miami guys collapse. I had the shortest walk, but I kind of stood back and just watched the moment.”
Rudy Gomez wasn’t one of those collapsed Miami players. Gomez, the Hurricanes’ second baseman, slowly walked to the dugout as Morris rounded the bases.
He got a perfect view of Morrison’s breaking ball — a low curveball that Morris golfed into the air.
“Robbie had the best breaking ball on the staff that year. It was down. I see it over and over in my head,” he says. “(Catcher Jim) Gargiulo went down to his knees to block it. He got the head of the bat out and made contact.”
Gomez, now a 41-year-old living in Miami, began to move toward the outfield to handle a relay throw. He kept hoping it would stay in the park.
“It’s one of the best experiences I had in my baseball career,” Gomez says. “I just happened to be on the wrong end of the stick.”
The ultimate “Where were you?” story belongs to Richard Dawson. Where was he? Sitting in the third row of the right-field bleachers.
He caught the home run ball — well, almost.
“You could say I trapped it,” Dawson told The Advocate in 1996. “It landed in my hands and fell to the ground, and I picked it up.”
Then a 38-year-old Omaha resident, Dawson traded the ball to Morris for another baseball Morris had autographed. Morris still has the ball, of course.
But no artifact can top the endless stories. The question and the answers will live forever.
Where were you?
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.