It wasn’t easy for Todd Peterson, wrangling his life under control.
There were late nights and early mornings and honest conversations with himself. He quickly understood the need to use the difficulty of his first year away from home as a learning tool, or he would be destined to repeat the mistakes.
It was tough, but as is often the case with hard things, worth it: A leaner and more dedicated Peterson is in line to open the season as LSU’s Sunday starter.
“I always thought the kid had a lot of talent, a lot of potential to do well,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “As happens with some kids, they lose their focus a little bit, they lose their way.”
Few things can spur necessary change like the sharp bite of reality, and make no mistake: The mark left by the end of Peterson’s freshman season served as a reminder of how fast things can unravel.
He was suspended the night before what would have been the biggest start of his nascent LSU career, the Southeastern Conference tournament opener. Later, when the Tigers needed a capable starting pitcher in the College World Series finals, LSU passed over Peterson because he was out of shape.
At issue in the CWS was Peterson’s weight, which ballooned during the season. That, Mainieri said, led to shoulder fatigue, which also led to Peterson not throwing in the summer. Mainieri publicly questioned Peterson’s dedication after the season.
Peterson had shown so much promise early on, but he lost his grip. The lackluster end to his freshman year motivated Peterson to regain control over his body, time and career.
“It kind of fired me up,” Peterson said. “If you really think about it, missing those opportunities really makes you hungry to get back out there, get back to it and actually do it, succeed at it.”
The first problem Peterson identified was his schedule — or, more accurately, how he failed to adjust to it.
On the surface, it encouraged discipline: Peterson had set times where he was supposed to be in class, at study hall, with a tutor and at practice. It was so heavily mapped out that Peterson did not properly use the time that was at his personal disposal.
Instead of using his free time to incorporate important things into the schedule — when, where and what to eat, namely — Peterson squeezed quick fixes into tight windows. His diet consisted of large amounts of quick, unhealthy food.
The second problem is one many struggle with: In his first year away from home, Peterson made poor dietary choices.
Even when he had time, he chose the bad thing. His go-to meal at a cafeteria on campus was a burger and fries with a Coke.
“It’s hard to find the time to cook your food, find the time to go work out, find the time to go run, but you’ve got to get it done,” Peterson said. “You’ve got to dedicate a certain day to meal prep throughout the week, a certain time whether it’s early in the morning or late at night to go work out.
“You’ve got to get it done, you can’t push it off because then you’ll get the results that I got last year and you end up putting on bad weight that you don’t want.”
Daniel Cabrera tries to not let the pressure get to him.
Peterson committed himself to making better use of his time. He also downloaded an app called MyFitnessPal, in which he could keep track of his workouts and diet and also see the nutritional breakdown of the food he consumed.
Peterson kept a daily log of his weight, matching each day with a picture of his body to monitor the impact of his positive choices.
“To see the progress really shows a lot. It made me feel that what I was doing was the right thing to get my body prepared, to get me ready for this year,” Peterson said.
The results have been cumulative. Not only does Peterson look more trim in his uniform, he feels more energized mentally.
“I just feel more alive,” Peterson said.
His impressive offseason overhaul was what Mainieri was hoping to see when he challenged him in June.
“I think he’s just determined,” Mainieri said. “He’s not taking anything for granted ... and so far he’s shown the potential we saw in him when we recruited him.”
LSU Starting Pitcher Preview
41 Caleb Gilbert, Jr., RHP, 7-1, 2.16 ERA, 67 K/12 BB
38 Zack Hess, So., RHP, 7-1, 3.12 ERA, 83 K/30 BB
43 Todd Peterson, So., RHP, 3-1, 4.19 ERA, 21 K/16 BB
49 Cam Sanders, Jr., RHP, 6-3, 2.89 ERA, 59 K, 50 BB (JUCO)
Best stuff: Give a slight edge to Gilbert, whose three-pitch repertoire is a little more well-rounded than Hess’. Gilbert’s big fastball and slider profile well in the Friday night spot.
Big question: Hess will debut in the rotation, but will he stay there? Coaches know he is lights out at the end of the game, but if he can do that as a starter he is more valuable there.
Final thoughts: After using the same weekend rotation for the duration of the 2017 season, LSU has some potential for volatility in 2018. It is certainly possible all three pitch well and stay in their spots, but this could take some time to feel out.