Why don’t they just go ahead and declare the last Friday in May a holiday in Baton Rouge?
After all, thousands of folks are going to take off work anyway, and even more will be watching from work — à la March Madness — as LSU engages in its yearly ritual of opening its NCAA tournament with a matinee.
And just as certain: The Tigers will win.
There were a few anxious moments early on, and a two-hour-plus rain delay to endure, but Friday’s 10-3 victory against Lehigh made LSU 12-0 in these games since 1999, when the tournament went to four-team regionals, all but one of which had afternoon starts.
“I told my dad, ‘We’re taking the day off,’” said Robin Fournet, who with her father, Steve Bueche, runs River Parish Portables in New Roads. “It’s sort of a reward for us. We did leave my mom in charge, but she was probably glad to get us out.
“It does feel different coming out here on a Friday afternoon, though — sort of like we’re on a field trip. But if the NCAA tournament is a reward for the team, we look on this day as a reward for us for supporting them.”
Not surprisingly, LSU is playing the opening game of the regional instead of the nightcap was the idea of former Tigers coach and later athletic director Skip Bertman.
Bertman, whose teams had gone 10-0 in regional openers before 1999, all of which were played at night, figured LSU fans were more likely to stick around for the second game rather than come out for the first.
Plus, if the Tigers did somehow manage to lose the tourney opener, they would come back to the Saturday elimination game with more rest than the second game.
That has yet to happen, although there were a couple of close calls — 10-9 over Minnesota in 2001 and 5-4 against Southern in 2002 — but the average score has been 10.6-4.1.
“We were just trying to get a little more attention for the other game,” Bertman said Friday. “And it’s worked pretty well. We never got any blowback from fans about it that I know of. Just about everybody that wants to make it here finds a way.”
Indeed they do, even if the outcome is pretty much preordained.
Jessica Howell of Baton Rouge came with her husband, Cameron, even though she is six months’ pregnant with their first child and sitting in the pre-rain 88-degree heat was, she admitted, a little uncomfortable.
“We just love baseball,” said Howell, who moved to Baton Rouge from Cincinnati five years and along with her husband has no particular tie to the Tigers. “And everybody at LSU appreciates the game so much. That’s why nobody (has) left.”
Howell was right.
In fact, the post-delay crowd was just as large, if not larger, than it was at 3 p.m. when the game began.
Not everybody hung around the stadium concourse.
Sandra Triche of Kenner, enjoying an afternoon off from her job at Hospital Drug Store, and her husband made their way out to their tailgate tent, where they picked up where they left off beforehand.
“We know how LSU is supposed to win today and everything,” she said. “But we just wanted to be part of the experience on the road to Omaha.”
Even those on the losing side enjoyed the atmosphere.
Glenn Faust, father of Lehigh first baseman Conner Faust, was one of about 30 Mountain Hawks fans in attendance.
An announced Alex Box crowd of 10,945 was quite a contrast from Lehigh, where the average attendance was 284.
“This is surreal for these kids,” Glenn Faust said. “They’ve never played in front of this many people and experienced the enthusiasm for college baseball they have down here. Our baseball is pretty much confined to family, friends and fraternity brothers.”
And the Lehigh fans enjoyed the atmosphere as well, especially the tailgating.
“The people have been great, and your gumbo is better than anything we’ve got,” he said. “Gumbo up there is a chewing gum.”
Faust and his friends will be back again Saturday, and the LSU fans will have the lagniappe of extra time to tailgate since the Tigers’ game isn’t scheduled to start until 8 p.m.
“I imagine there will be people eating and drinking all day long,” Steve McGee of Monroe said as he and his friends grilled hamburgers. “They already do more than at football games.
“That’s just one day. This is three.”