Willy Amador’s fastball was on the outer half of home plate, where it was annihilated by a neon green bat.
The hands holding the handle have more plate coverage than anyone in the LSU baseball batting order, but the pitch they were swinging at would have escaped unharmed two weeks ago.
Greg Deichmann found this pitch, which he sent 416 feet to a part of Alex Box Stadium that no player had reached since college baseball switched bats. It landed near a television camera shaded toward left field, a part of the field Deichmann neglected to use just three weeks ago.
He sprinted around the bases, staring toward his team’s dugout while the afternoon crowd of 9,854 rendered his yells useless. Beau Jordan met him at home plate, where they celebrated as the Tigers snared the lead in their 5-2, regional championship-clinching win Tuesday against Rice.
His teammates nearly needed to be restrained when he greeted them.
“Being one of the heroes of the night,” Deichmann said, “was an unbelievable feeling.”
Deichmann is a young, powerful, left-handed hitter who enjoys pulling the ball to right field. Hitting coach Andy Cannizaro grooms many like him, players who approach at-bats looking only for the pitch they desire to hit.
“You have to look for what you’re going to get — not what you want to hit,” Cannizaro said. “Once you’re able to do that, then you’re able to bring guys into the comfort zone that you really, truly want. What we talked about with Greg is being able to look for the ball away, look for the fastball away, commit to being aggressive and going out there and go get it — drive the baseball.”
After Deichmann found success against director of baseball operations Micah Gibbs’ outside fastballs in batting practice, Cannizaro placed a tee on the outer half of the plate in the cage before the opener of the Baton Rouge regional against Utah Valley. Deichmann swung.
He employed the strategy in the next five games. He hit .600, garnering Most Outstanding Player honors. Five of his nine hits went to left or center field. His batting practice Friday in the team’s final preparation before opening its super regional against Coastal Carolina on Saturday night again showed the improvement.
“The more success he has on balls away,” Cannizaro said, “he’s going to become a more complete hitter. You’re going to see his walks go up, You’re going to see his strikeouts go down, batting average goes up, doubles go up.”
One year ago, this meteoric rise seemed unlikely.
Deichmann carries with him assuredness, a frank demeanor that recalls his statistics with ease. Thirty-five strikeouts, he said. Thirty-five strikeouts in 35 games.
He hit .180 in that span in the Northwoods League last summer, where he was shipped before LSU even began postseason play in the SEC tournament.
Deichmann, who played in 10 games following a stress fracture in his foot, watched his teammates win a regional and super regional on a cell phone alone in Mequon, Wisconsin.
“I couldn’t even remember how to square a ball up in (batting practice),” he said. “My dad was up there with me, and we would go out and hit BP on the field, trying to figure some things out, and it felt like nothing was going right for me at that point. That was the lowest of lows.”
Deichmann faced no such adversity at Brother Martin High School, where he was a four-year starter. Reality slapped him at LSU, he said. Known for his work ethic throughout high school, Deichmann drove down Gourrier Avenue many nights during his freshman season. The lights were on in Alex Box Stadium.
“Who the hell is over there?” he thought as future No. 2 draft pick Alex Bregman fielded ground balls.
“Coming in here, I thought I was a hard worker,” Deichmann said. “But then you see the guys like that.”
So there he was, in Wisconsin, his only connection to a College World Series team buffering on his iPhone. It rang, and head coach Paul Mainieri was on the line, his rising sophomore finally starting to find success.
“He’d started to pick it up and I said, ‘You’re not going to get 30 games in the spring to find yourself. Every game is important at LSU; we have to try to win every game,’ ” Mainieri recalled.
The message, as Deichmann recalled it, was support. Mainieri told him he could “be a guy” for the team he’d grown up watching.
“That phone call is kind of what turned it around,” Deichmann said.
Added Mainieri: “Greg is a player you have to have a lot of patience with, but once it comes to fruition, it’s going to be awesome. And he’s on the verge of becoming awesome.”
Mainieri hopes Deichmann will return to school. If he does, the coach surmises Deichmann can be the best power hitter in the country, worthy of a first- or second-round draft pick.
Defense remains, too. He is playing first base for the first time in his life. He played third base for all of one week before being moved back across the diamond, where he’s becoming more proficient with his footwork while scooping throws in the dirt.
He’ll amble out Saturday night, taking throws from Kramer Robertson at shortstop and Cole Freeman at second before the super regional that his home run propelled the team into begins.
“Such a good feeling,” Cannizaro said. “Such a good feeling to work with somebody and then see them apply it when the lights come on in front of 12,000 people.”