The LSU baseball team arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday to finish preparations for the College World Series,
The Tigers will check out TD Ameritrade Park, handle a spate of interviews, maybe see a few sights, then hone in on its opening game against TCU on Sunday afternoon.
The surroundings, the circumstances and the competition are all unique, something LSU learned in its last trip there two years ago.
The most glaring example was the fact that the most successful Tigers team before the CWS lost in two games and headed home.
Six other LSU teams had arrived in Omaha with slightly less impressive résumés and returned home as national champions.
The Tigers lost their opening game to UCLA 4-1 and came back less than 48 hours later to lose to North Carolina 4-2.
“We didn’t get the breaks,” said outfielder Mark Laird, who was a freshman on the last CWS team. “Those were good baseball games. We played good ball. We played hard. We had opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize on a lot of opportunities that we had.”
Laird is one of four players on this year’s team that have played in the CWS. The others are shortstop Alex Bregman, outfielder Andrew Stevenson and second baseman Jared Foster.
“We were happy to get there (two years ago),” Bregman said. “This year it’s all about business. We’re going there on a mission.”
The 2013 team was on a mission also. The players were determined that an illustrious senior class headed by Mason Katz, Raph Rhymes, Chris Cotton and Joey Bourgeois would not leave the program without ever making it to the CWS.
“We were just wanting to get them there and once we did that it was like, “We’re there,’ ” Bregman said before exhaling demonstratively for effect, “instead of we’re there to win.”
The Tigers spent much of a team meeting Tuesday, their first since finishing a super regional sweep of Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday night, talking about how to separate the extraordinary CWS surroundings from the ordinariness of preparing to win baseball games.
Coach Paul Mainieri dealt with the logistics.
“I literally talked to them about the hotel, about where we’re practicing, about what it’s like going to the stadium, what the practice day is going to be like,” Mainieri said. “I gave them a very detailed itinerary and I explained the whole thing as best I could to them to try to give them a vision of what it’s going to be like.”
The 2013 veterans on this team have that initial experience to draw on and share with teammates who haven’t been before, a luxury the 2013 team didn’t have.
“I’ve talked to every one of them and tried to pick their brain to see what they thought about it, what their first impressions were, what their experience was playing two games there,” sophomore outfielder Jake Fraley said. “This is huge, and we want to make sure we’re as prepared as possible when we get there.”
Fraley said he’s been told that TD Ameritrade Park isn’t as loud as Alex Box Stadium because even though it holds more than twice as many people as the Box’s capacity of 11,000, it’s so much more spread out that the noise isn’t as condensed.
Another factor with the ballpark is that it’s harder to hit the ball out than it is in most college stadiums.
Mainieri said the ballpark, which opened in 2011, played “a lot bigger than I thought it would” in 2013.
Fraley remembers watching that CWS on TV after signing with the Tigers. He recalled LSU third baseman Christian Ibarra flying out to the warning track in left field his first two at-bats against UCLA.
“Those two balls that Ibarra hit were absolutely crushed,” Fraley said.
Laird said the players can’t ignore the fact that it’s the CWS.
“You’re going to grow up and tell your kids, “I played in the College World Series,’ ” Laird said. “But you need to separate it. I think it helps us that we have players that have been there before.”
Mainieri has altered the itinerary. The Tigers are staying at a different hotel, and they’ve tweaked the practice plan between TD Ameritrade and an off-site location.
“You can’t ever predict for sure how they’re going to handle it,” Mainieri said, “but I feel like we’ll be as prepared as we possible can be.”
Bregman, who was the No. 2 player selected in the major league draft on Monday, hopes to end his career with a better memory than the one from his freshman season.
“If we go there and lose,” he said, “it will be the same thing as not even going.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.