Jared Foster walked out of his Baton Rouge home and onto his patio. He strolled the full length of the yard, stopped at the end of it and stared over the fence.
Inside his home, his parents and his grandmother watched him as the audio broadcast of the 2014 MLB Draft came to a close.
Jared wasn’t picked.
“We were all sad and disappointed. Things weren’t like we thought it would turn out,” said Patti Foster, Jared’s mother. “We let him ponder and think and work through it.”
Patti watched as her son walked back into his house. He declined the family’s dinner invitation, choosing instead to “go work out.”
Foster had made his decision, Patti knew: He would remain at LSU and try to revive his baseball career during his senior season.
“When his world was starting to crumble,” Patti said, “he picked it back up and moved forward.”
At the halfway point of LSU’s 2015 regular season, Jared Foster is the surprising star of the nation’s No. 1-ranked baseball team. He’s batting .348 and leads the Tigers (22-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) in slugging percentage at .725.
He’s the biggest hitter on a team that leads the nation in batting average heading into the start of a three-game series against Kentucky (16-9, 2-4) on Friday at Alex Box Stadium.
Foster is hitting so well that coach Paul Mainieri has moved him from outfield to second base just to keep is bat in the lineup. He’s dwarfing offensive numbers from last year’s forgetful season – the one in which he started as the cleanup hitter and finished as a reserve who batted .115.
His five homers already this season are two more than he had in his first three seasons and his 14 extra-base hits this year are as many as he had in those first three years.
“He’s on a mission this year,” shortstop Alex Bregman said.
It’s been a long journey to this point.
Foster originally came to LSU from Lake Charles as a quarterback. He walked onto the baseball team and had enough success as a freshman and sophomore that he entered last season with a starting spot and high draft hopes.
By the second week of the season, Foster was out of the lineup after starting 1-for-13. He finished the season 7-for-61, and his plan to leave school early for professional ball fell apart.
“I was thinking too much about things that were outside of my say and control,” Foster said, admitting that he worried too much about the draft last year. “It affected me. I tried to get too big, put up too big of numbers.”
What’s behind the success this season? Foster says he just “chilled out.”
“Stop tried to press too much and just have fun,” he said. “I realized it’s my last year. Whatever happens is going to happen. You’ve got to control the controllable.”
He imagined putting up gaudy numbers as a junior in 2014 and being drafted by a big league club. It didn’t happen that way, of course.
He changed plans, and it didn’t go well at first. He rejoined the football team as a backup quarterback but lasted just a month of practice before a lingering foot injury forced him to have surgery.
He missed the football season and baseball’s fall practice.
Doctors removed a dime-sized piece of bone that had been floating in his foot for years. They had to snip a tendon from the floating bone and reattach it with a screw.
He wore a cast for seven weeks that ran from his toe to his knee, and then he had to rebuild a calf muscle that, he said, had gotten so small Foster could nearly wrap his hand around it.
His mother calls the surgery a “blessing in disguise.” It was another hurdle for her son.
As if batting .115 and not getting drafted wasn’t enough, now his attempt at playing football had ended.
It was a rough eight months. He thought about quitting it all.
“It was a tough toll on my mind as an athlete,” Foster said.
He talked to his parents about quitting sports. They told him, “You’ve got the athletic ability. Go give it your best shot.”
And now? Well, he’s giving it his best shot all right.
He’s back to playing second base so Mainieri can keep him and left fielder Jake Fraley in the lineup together.
“It reminds me of high school. It’s been a while, but it’s fun,” said Foster, an infielder at Barbe High.
Most of his success this season is mental, but he has done one thing physically – he’s not changing his stance at the plate so much. He’s picked one stance, and he’s sticking with it. The result: Home runs, doubles, triples and RBIs.
Many call Foster the best athlete on the team. His draft status continues to rise, but, after last season, he’s keeping expectations to a minimum. He’s not even sure where he’ll play in professional ball.
Some teams have talked about leaving him in the infield. Others say outfield. Either way, he’ll probably get his shot somewhere, and that’s quite the story after the last year.
“When kids have been through the trials and tribulations and been knocked down and they get back up off the floor and don’t feel sorry for themselves and come back fighting and succeed,” Mainieri said, “I love those stories.”
LSU (22-3, 4-2 SEC) vs. Kentucky (16-9, 2-4)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Alex Box Stadium
Rankings: LSU is ranked No. 1 in five of six polls. Kentucky is not ranked.
Projected starting pitchers:
- Friday: UK sophomore RHP Zack Brown (2-2, 2.43 ERA) vs. LSU sophomore LHP Jared Poché (5-1, 3.37 ERA)
- Saturday: UK junior RHP Dustin Beggs (3-2, 3.44 ERA) vs. LSU freshman RHP Alex Lange (5-0, 1.42 ERA)
- Sunday: UK junior RHP Kyle Cody (2-2, 4.88 ERA) vs. LSU freshman RHP Jake Godfrey (5-0, 2.25 ERA)
Online Streaming: SEC Network-plus, which is accessible at SECNetwork.com and the Watch ESPN app
Radio: WDGL 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge); KLWB 103.7 FM (Lafayette); WWL 870 AM, WWL 105.3 FM (New Orleans)
In-game updates: @DellengerAdv, @BarrecaAdv
What to watch: Jared Poché makes his first appearance after what he calls the worst start of his … life. He lasted less than four innings and gave up 10 hits and five runs in a 5-1 loss to Arkansas last Thursday. LSU leads the nation in batting average (.332), but Zack Brown holds teams to a .182 average as a starting pitcher.
Know your opponent: The Wildcats have an RPI of 50 and were swept in their SEC opening series at South Carolina, a three-game set that included two close game. They took two of three from Mississippi State last week.
Jared Foster has made a huge leap this season compared to his first three years at LSU and his rough 2014 season.
Extra base hits
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.