OMAHA, Neb . — Poll the LSU Tigers to ask them who the best athlete on the team is, and it would probably be little contest.
Jared Foster would win in a walk. Or a run. Or with a throw. Or a hit. Or even a pass. Whatever it took.
“He’s very athletic,” said shortstop Alex Bregman, who should know. He patrols the infield with Foster, and he’s been judged a fairly decent athlete himself, having been drafted Monday with the second overall pick by the Houston Astros.
But while Bregman seems bred to roam the middle infield, a man who knows what he’s best at and where he should be, Foster took a little more time to be put in his place.
Basketball was Foster’s first love, but he came to LSU to play football and baseball.
Once he arrived, walking on at LSU despite scholarship offers from other Southeastern Conference schools, and not playing quarterback on the football field, Foster toiled in the Alex Box Stadium outfield.
In this, his senior campaign, the Lake Charles native has spent most of his season at second base. But check out the major league draft coverage, and the Los Angeles Angels, the team that selected Foster 165th overall in the fifth round, list him as an outfielder.
No matter. Foster is LSU’s man for all seasons.
It was early March when the Tigers were playing in the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park.
The first three weeks of the season, Foster split time in the outfield with Jake Fraley. But as the calendar turned to the season’s second month, LSU coach Paul Mainieri wanted both of their bats in the lineup full-time.
“Both of them were swinging so well, I thought they both should be in the lineup,” Mainieri said. “So the natural feeling was to try him at second base.”
Foster may have seemed like “The Natural” to Mainieri, but he was surprised by the move.
“One of the last days we were there, Coach mentioned it to me,” Foster said. “I was on my way to workouts. I got a call that, instead of working out, for me to come take ground balls.”
That was the Wednesday after LSU returned from Houston. That night, the Tigers hosted McNeese State, with Foster at second, having supplanted Kramer Robertson and Grayson Byrd.
“It literally happened in a day,” he said. “And I haven’t left since.”
Foot speed is critical in the outfield. Mental speed is critical in the infield, the ability to quickly compute a wide range of possible outcomes on each pitch. It was the first thing Foster had to re-learn from his younger days at second.
“You have to know the runners, more of the situation,” he said. “You’ve got to know where you’re going to be before the ball is hit. You obviously pay attention in the outfield, but it’s like this guy could be stealing, it could be a bunt and you have to cover first. You never know.
“Taking ground balls. It’s different. Trying to get in a rhythm. Trying to read hops, trying to come get the good hops, sit back on a big hop.”
It probably would have worked out even more smoothly for Foster had he not been held back by foot surgery in September, a week after dressing out for LSU’s football season opener in Houston against Wisconsin. His fall was all rehab and treadmills as he worked his way back into baseball shape, at least focusing on one sport this time if ultimately not one position.
But nothing in his college career has been smooth and seamless. Just before LSU’s final regular-season series at South Carolina, Foster was ruled academically ineligible because he didn’t make a high enough grade in one of his courses to count toward his sports administration major.
Only an 11th hour appeal — which included a rules interpretation from an NCAA eligibility official — allowed Foster to regain his eligibility, counting his grade toward another major since he was a senior.
He played at South Carolina, was named to the All-Southeastern Conference tournament team (he also earned the same honors in 2013) and now heads with the Tigers as a key piece of their leadership puzzle to one of the NCAA’s premier championship events: the College World Series.
Having a player like Foster could pay big dividends for the Tigers in Omaha, Mainieri said.
“If you look at the history of the College World Series, the teams that have succeeded there have had a senior presence,” he said. “It’s hard to have seniors, because the best players sign after their junior year. So when you have seniors like we have, it’s pretty much a luxury. Those guys have improved — Conner Hale, Kade Scivicque, Zac Person, Jared Foster — they weren’t ready for pro ball after their junior year. Now you have that 22-year-old guy who isn’t quite as in awe of things as the younger guy might be. It gives your team a sense of composure.”
A man for all seasons, perhaps.
No one LSU has plays that role better than Foster.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.