Baseball, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns once said, is a game about imperishable hope.
No where and at no time does that hope live more than on opening day. Or, as was the case Friday between LSU and UL-Monroe, opening night.
Fans hope the team will be good. Coaches hope the team will be healthy. And athletic administrators, like the huddled umpires in the famous Norman Rockwell painting, stretch out an anxious hand to see if any unwanted raindrops will find it and dampen the count at the gate.
Can’t it just rain on the off days?
After months of waiting — and an afternoon matinee when Army brought out the tanks and rumbled over Air Force 17-2 — finally it was time for LSU’s season opener. A nifty video montage of LSU’s six College World Series championship-clinching moments played on the new Rhode Island-sized video scoreboard in left field, setting the proper mood, along with the urging sound of O.A.R’s “This Town” pumping out over the loudspeakers, perfectly encapsulating everything.
This town, this city, this crowd
Stand up on your feet put your worry down
No. 1 LSU erased an early deficit against ULM to open the season with a 12-7 victory as Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera both hit two home runs.
And then they were out there, the LSU players, young men rushing out to their positions for some last-minute fielding work like they have since they were little boys. Zack Hess, LSU’s starting pitcher, skipped joyously over the first-base line and out onto the mound, like a captain on his bridge hoping to steer the Tigers to a glorious and distant port.
Everyone around here knows the destination Hess and the Tigers are aiming for this season. Just head up the Mississippi River and hang a left at St. Louis onto the Missouri and come to a stop when you get to Omaha. You can see the lights of TD Ameritrade Park from the bank.
LSU will need Hess to be more on his game to get to the CWS. The Warhawks hammered him for three runs in the first inning and five overall (four earned), forcing the Tigers to battle back and battle back all night. At least Eric Walker's return to the mound after missing all of 2018 with Tommy John elbow surgery was a success, as he pitched a Walker-like 2 1/3 innings of one-hit scoreless relief.
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The big story, though, was the big bats. Fortunately for LSU, it was Turn Back the Clock Night at The Box. The Tigers went all Geauxrilla Ball on ULM, specifically Messrs. Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera. They combined for four home runs (one a grand slam in the eighth by Duplantis) and an incredible 11 RBIs in the Tigers’ 12-7 victory.
Concerns about Hess’ effectiveness will stretch into the weeks ahead. For now, LSU got the win, its 18th straight on opening day/night, avoiding bringing ruin to the curtain-raising celebration.
The crowd was slow to file into Alex Box Stadium, perhaps worried by the rain, perhaps lingering too long over early season tailgates (I saw a beer or two entering The Box, I did. But just water for me, thanks. I’m working). But into the first inning the stands worked almost completely full, no section fuller than the left half of the right field bleachers where LSU’s students packed in like I suspect they will in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center when Tennessee’s No. 1-ranked basketball team comes to town next Saturday.
The student section is new to The Box, which turns 10-years old this year. It is a welcomed addition to the ballpark’s familiar atmosphere, long overdue after watching the water (and other liquid refreshments) coming flying out of the student section at Ole Miss’ ballpark.
The concentrated LSU krewe immediately made its presence felt. In the bottom of the first inning, Tigers lead off hitter Josh Smith hit a towering pop fly to center. The LSU students were riding ULM center fielder all the way and sure enough he dropped the ball, allowing Smith to scoot to third where he eventually scored on a two-run single by Daniel Cabrera.
You could almost hear them shout “We did that!!!” after the ball hit the turf. There will be no containing them now. Just wait until a Southeastern Conference rival comes to town.
There are other new fixtures to the ballpark. The Yard, or yards, tented beer and wine dispensaries beyond the left- and right-field corners. The baseball team’s new dedicated weight room going up beneath a familiar looking Spanish tiled roof over by the newly spiffed up Intimidator billboard behind the right field bleachers.
For all the newness, though, it’s the same old story for LSU baseball.
Omaha … or bust.
It’s a long way to June, but the imperishable hope is riding a full tank right now.