To fans not old enough to remember baseball at LSU before Skip Bertman, the happenings Friday night at Alex Box Stadium wouldn’t have appeared much out of the ordinary.
A crowd of 10,000-plus, all drenched in purple and gold, sat waiting for the Tigers to match up with Ole Miss in the second of a three-game series.
A line of ballplayers wearing LSU hats and purple pinstripes, a team that entered the night with 47 wins and ranked No. 2 in the country, formed outside the home dugout.
From the “Intimidator” celebrating six College World Series championships to the suites that stretch from first base to third, the jewel of a ballpark LSU opened in 2009 was aglow with the kind of energy no one except Bertman could have envisioned three decades ago.
“This is truly the house that Skip built,” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said.
So it was that LSU officially named the field at Alex Box Stadium after the legendary coach, part of a pregame ceremony Friday that began with the honoring of Bertman’s 1993 national championship team 20 years after it brought home LSU’s second baseball title.
Bertman went 870-330-3 as LSU’s coach from 1984 to 2001, leading the program to five of the six CWS championships. He then was the school’s athletic director from 2001-08.
Bertman stood on the infield with his wife, Sandy, as LSU unveiled a “Skip Bertman Field” sign on the facing of the stadium above the press box. Similar signage above the scoreboard was unveiled earlier this season.
Bertman said he was honored to see his name sharing space with that of Alex Box, an LSU letterman who was killed while fighting in North Africa during World War II.
“Just about anything that happened to LSU that I could control over the past 30 years has been visualized by me,” Bertman said. “But honestly, I never saw my name on the scoreboard or above the press box. This is at the very, very top.”
It was a festive night at the Box all the way around, with several former Tigers either part of the pregame ceremony or simply there to enjoy it.
Former LSU pitcher turned CST analyst Ronnie Rantz sang the national anthem, then joined his teammates from the 1993 team on the infield.
All players from the ’93 team in attendance were introduced individually. Todd Walker, the team’s All-America second baseman, spoke of the impact playing for LSU had on him and his teammates.
When the ceremony’s focus turned to Walker’s old coach, a long line of former players including Paul Byrd, Ryan Theriot and Brad Cresse joined the members of the ’93 squad on the infield.
“Thanks for coming, boys,” Bertman said.
Bertman had five national championship teams but said the 1993 team was unique in the way it responded from setbacks. The Tigers came out of the losers bracket to win the Southeastern Conference Western Division tournament, then traveled the same path to win an NCAA regional in Baton Rouge. Once they got to Omaha, they needed to win an elimination game against Long Beach State to reach the CWS title game.
“It was different from other national championships,” Bertman said. “This high-character and unbelievably talented bunch never gave up, always believing they would succeed.”
That was when LSU baseball, and college baseball as a whole, was just starting to take off. That was long before the new Box opened.
“It wasn’t like it is today, and that’s a credit to that man right there,” Walker said, gesturing to Bertman.