ATHENS, Ga. — At old Alex Box Stadium, the Bain family often sat behind the woman known simply as “The K Lady.”
Most LSU baseball fans know who that is. For those who don’t, she’s the woman who posts a cardboard “K” for each batter an LSU pitcher strikes out.
To Austin Bain and his family, she was a distributor of sweet treats.
“She’d give him candy when he was a little boy,” said Keippi Bain, Austin’s mother.
“We told her that one day (recently),” said his father, Pete. “‘When he was a kid, you used to get him candy.’ She smiled and wrapped her arms around our necks.”
This is how deeply rooted Austin Bain is in LSU baseball.
Now, he’s officially a big part of it.
Bain, a freshman, will start his second straight weekend game during LSU’s series at Georgia — a three-game set beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at cozy Foley Field.
He’s a local product — from Geismar and born in Baton Rouge — who has, in some ways, surprisingly overcome a host of highly touted out-of-state pitchers in LSU’s No. 1-ranked 2014 signing class.
He shook off more than that underdog label. Bain, signed as an infielder/pitcher, has accepted his role as a pitcher only — a hard thing to do for someone talented enough, some say, to play infield at the major college level.
He worked through a troubling arm issue that kept him from pitching in the summer and fall, too — something that had the pitcher and his family at first worried about his future.
It’s all led here — him being a starting weekend pitcher for his childhood favorite, an LSU team that’s 32-6, 10-5 in the Southeastern Conference and in the hunt to grab a national seed.
“We’d never in our wildest dreams thought that he would be here,” Keippi said. “And here he is.”
Bain has 32 strikeouts to 11 walks, an ERA of 3.29 and has shown a poise on the mound that has his former high school coaches reminding them of his first outing as a freshman.
“He got to throw three innings, and he struck out eight hitters,” said Justin Morgan, Bain’s pitching coach at Dutchtown who’s now at University High. “That night, we were like, ‘Wow.’ ”
That was just the start for a kid who developed into a two-way player at shortstop and pitcher for Dutchtown. Morgan compares Bain’s soft hands and instincts in the infield to that of former LSU star shortstop Austin Nola.
Bain was recruited to play both at many schools and wanted to do both at LSU. Coaches gave him a shot in the fall before moving him onto the pitching staff full-time for the spring.
Bain played first base in the fall. A mysterious soreness kept him from pitching in the fall and summer.
“When you’re young and out their pitching and you get soreness and you don’t know what’s going on, that’s frightening,” Pete said.
Scans done between the fall and spring practice came back: It was only a bone spur.
“It scared him not knowing what it was,” Keippi said. “That kind of relaxed him.”
Said Pete: “Nothing structural. That was the big thing. That was a big relief.”
Bain’s arm is feeling fine these days. It’s working well, too. In his last six outings, Bain has allowed 13 hits and six runs while striking out 22 and walking nine in a combined 19 innings.
“He came back for Christmas, got on the pitching plan and you saw things that I remembered seeing while recuriting him,” LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said.
It’s been a stunning rise to prominence for a kid who entered spring practice as the least heralded of the five freshman pitchers. Did he think he’d be here right now?
“I did not,” Bain said in a recent interview. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Morgan isn’t all that surprised. And neither is Dutchtown High head coach Chris Schexnaydre.
Both remember a kid with a loose arm, easy throwing motion and nasty changeup, a pitcher whose fastball hit 90 mph as a junior and drew college coaches’ attention at a showcase that year.
In the two to three days following that showcase, Schexnaydre’s “phone was ringing like crazy,” he said. “Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU, Tulane, Southern Miss.”
There was just one place Bain was interested in — the place in which he remembers, at the age of 4 or 5, being flipped a foul ball his father caught.
“I’ve always wanted to play here growing up,” Bain said, “back when Skip (Bertman) coached.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.