The umpire sat sipping water, attempting to regain a normal body temperature inside the St. Michael the Archangel baseball locker room.
The best player the clubhouse ever housed entered at the game’s conclusion and began playing ping pong with the teammates some said he should have abandoned.
“I go back in there,” St. Michael coach Johnny Bernhard remembered, “and there’s Chris (Reid) playing this umpire in ping pong. He challenged the overheated umpire in the locker room after the game. And the umpire took him up on it.
“That’s just the kind of kid he is, it’s infectious.”
Chris Reid beat the umpire, who ignored Bernhard’s plea to return home and get healthy, instead losing another game to this self-assured, 5-foot-9 infielder that’s allayed LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s foremost offseason concern at third base, starting 12 of his team’s 15 Southeastern Conference games and hitting .302 during his team’s 9-6 conference start.
“He was talking about how he could beat us,” Reid remembered. “I beat him pretty handily. He went back to just drinking his water.”
Pegged to man third base for the foreseeable future after O’Neal Lochridge’s nagging back troubles, Reid speaks straddling a line of confidence and cockiness, the product of persistently proving outsiders wrong since before entering a high school few said he should attend.
Reid was inundated with phone calls and text messages disparaging his high school program, then unproven in the eyes of major college baseball, advising him to transfer or select another school if he hoped to further his burgeoning talent.
To that point, this co-ed Catholic high school had produced one LSU baseball player. Taylor Martin, a pitcher, did not record a statistic and left after one season in 2008.
“Whether it was parents or other players around Baton Rouge,” Reid explained, “they were telling me St. Michael wasn’t quality enough for teams to recruit you out of. But I never let that kind of play into my decision.”
Reid refined his swing — a smooth stroke that keeps the barrel of his bat in the strike zone indefinitely — inside the St. Michael batting cages, a frequent morning stop in his adolescent years with his father.
Bernhard first met him in sixth grade when he came to the school’s summer camp, where Reid displayed better mechanics and a more advanced swing than Bernhard’s high-schoolers.
“If you’re good enough, you’ll be found,” Joe Stansell would tell Reid. “You stay with what you’re comfortable with. He carried the chip for St. Michael everywhere he went. He was full on trying to prove something from the get-go.”
Stansell began coaching Reid at age 11 with a Marucci travel team that included Tulane freshman Ross Massey — now with a 1.64 ERA as the Green Wave’s Friday night starter.
Stansell toted the team to tournaments across the Southeast. Onlookers, scouts and coaches approached with a similar question.
“They all wanted to know ‘Who was that kid with the swing,’ ” Stansell recalled. “He was known everywhere we went.”
The swing comes with ease, allowing the left-handed hitter to spray a liner to right or poke one the opposite way through the six-hole.
Velocity is no issue, either. Keeping the barrel in the zone ensures he’ll square up the baseball whenever it arrives. Take Saturday, when he sent Missouri ace Tanner Houck’s first-pitch fastball up the middle for a game-tying, two-out RBI single in the fourth inning.
“All he’s done since he’s gotten on campus is get hits,” LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro said. “He’s picked up some gigantic hits for us this year. … He’s not going to drive the ball out of the ballpark, but he’s also not going to give his at-bat away. He does a lot of what we talk about all the time in terms of never giving an (at-bat) away, battling the pitcher in the box, executing and doing what we need done.”
Reid embraces his nondescript origins to correct outsiders who surmise he’s overmatched at a higher level of baseball. He’s quick to remind that he was a travel ball teammate of ballyhooed recruits and teammates Brennan Breaux, Brody Wofford and Lochridge.
He’s cognizant of his abilities — Bernhard laughs at the distinct lack of speed — but stays within himself. There is not one facet of Reid’s game that grades better than another, aside from maybe that swing.
“He’s a very polished player and that’s what’s always stood out about Chris,” Bernhard said. “He’s not the biggest kid, not the fastest kid, but when you get him on a baseball field he’s just a kid that’s going to find a way to win, that’s just kind of how he is.”
Reid returns to his locker following each game to text messages, some from St. Michael parents, others from students scintillated at the progress he’s made. Bernhard watches each game with glee, hearing analysts say “a St. Michael high school product” for the kid few thought could progress from there.
“Everybody knows I wasn’t the highest recruited person. I guess you could say I came out of nowhere,” Reid said. “I came out here to do the things I’ve been doing for my entire life. It’s working out.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter @Chandler_Rome