Alex Bregman took batting practice on a beach and hit baseballs into the clearest water he’s ever seen.
He had to wear sleeves in July, bussed around North Carolina and played in a ballpark where the scoreboard featured a photo of Fidel Castro.
“Had a blast,” the LSU shortstop said.
Bregman spent six weeks of his summer with the USA national team, traveling to Cuba and the Netherlands with a group of fellow college baseball stars and learning along the way — about more than baseball.
“We got off the plane in Cuba, and one of the ladies who’s one of our tour guides said, ‘Y’all embarrassed us last year. This country’s embarrassed. Every single person on the island will be watching, and we will win,’” Bregman said.
“I said, ‘Oh, wow.’”
LSU begins fall practice Monday, the start to a six-week fall season expected to help coach Paul Mainieri formulate his starting infield and weekend rotation for the 2015 season.
Questions abound in those two areas. Who replaces defensive-guru Christian Ibarra at third base? Who’s the weekend ace after the departure of Aaron Nola? And who plays first, second and catcher?
One question Mainieri doesn’t have: Who plays shortstop?
That’s Bregman’s job. The junior from New Mexico enters what could be his final year at LSU. He’s eligible for the 2015 MLB draft. Even Mainieri admitted to looking to a post-Bregman season in 2016.
The coach said he’ll be eyeing Kramer Robertson and freshman Grayson Byrd at shortstop during the fall with thoughts that one could replace Bregman in 2016.
Bregman isn’t thinking beyond one thing, he said.
“I’m 100 percent focused on trying to make this team as best as I possibly can and go to Omaha and have a chance to win a national championship,” he said.
Bregman kept tuned up this summer playing with some of college baseball’s best. He led Team USA with 17 RBIs in 109 at-bats and was one of two players who started all 28 of the team’s games.
Mainieri said Bregman struggled some defensively late in the six-week stretch. He finished the season with a .935 fielding percentage (eight errors), and he batted .257.
“Everybody told me he had so many hard outs it was ridiculous,” Mainieri said. “When you’re only playing a small amount of games, a handful of balls that could have been hits were caught changes your batting average by 30 points.”
Bregman said he “feels good” at the plate and that he “barreled some balls up” over the summer.” He took his sizzling season-ending bat to the summer and now into fall.
Bregman finished last season on a five-game hitting streak and batting over .400 in LSU’s last 12 games.
It all came after a midseason lull, a stretch that had fans muttering the dreaded phrase “sophomore slump.”
“Last year, Bregman struggled a little bit,” first-year hitting coach Andy Cannizaro said. “There was no (Mason) Katz in the lineup, no (Raph) Rhymes in the lineup. All of a sudden, LSU shows up to the park every night and it’s, ‘We’re not going to let Alex Bregman beat us.’ By the end of the year, Alex Bregman was as good as anybody in the nation. That’ll be a learning experience for him last year.”
Bregman admits to that.
“Hit the ball hard all summer. Feel like I learned a lot from last year offensively,” he said.
Bregman needs to slip back into the player he was in 2013 as a freshman, the guy LSU fans saw late last season.
The Tigers will have a new third baseman and new faces at first base and catcher. They’ll have a restructured weekend rotation missing a first-round draft pick in Nola and a bullpen that should be deeper than last season but young.
The team, as a whole, is adding 11 new players, about one-third of the roster. Most are part of a No. 1 ranked signing class that Bregman said hasn’t “done anything yet.”
“We’re going to make sure they know that,” he said of the group, which lost headliner Mac Marshall last week when the pitcher abruptly left the program. “They’ve got to come to the field every day and work their butt off.”
And Bregman? He’ll do the same with that one goal in mind.
“Yeah,” he said when asked about a personal goal for 2015. “There’s one, and it’s win a national championship. That’s it.”