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LSU third baseman Chris Reid (17) gets amped up after being walked in the seventh inning against California, Saturday, March 9, 2019, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. California defeated LSU 5-2 in seven innings.

Chris Reid thrust his fist into the air, a triumphant punch as he rounded first base at Alex Box Stadium. It was the bottom of the second inning during the finale of a doubleheader, and Reid had just hit the first home run of his career.

Well, the first to clear the wall. 

Somehow, as a freshman three years ago, this man hit an inside-the-park home run — even though he was one of the slowest players on the team; even though, when comparing his speed, he used 61-year-old coach Paul Mainieri as a reference point. 

But the home run — the long home run — sailed over the wall with ease. After the game, Reid smiled and said: “They told me it was 399 (feet), but we'll round up to 400.”

That moment came during Reid’s fifth straight start at third base this season, a statement unimaginable last summer.

Trying to reach the NCAA's roster limit, Mainieri cut him. Two-and-a-half weeks before the first game, Mainieri asked him to rejoin the team. Now Reid is playing better than before, making some eyebrow-raising defensive plays, showing a little bit of power and providing the comic relief that has always flowed naturally. 

As No. 10 LSU approached Tuesday night’s game at Northwestern State, Mainieri shook his head at the thought of where the Tigers would be without him.

A graduate of St. Michael the Archangel High School who always wanted to play at LSU, Reid became the starter at third base not long into his freshman season. But when Josh Smith showed up a year later and Reid lost the mechanics of his swing, he found himself out of the lineup.

Instead of holding it against Smith, creating an awkward situation as LSU hurtled toward the College World Series finals, Reid supported his teammate. He wanted to start, but he recognized Smith’s talent.

Once Smith took over the position, Reid congratulated him. Reid later told his father he had more fun coming off the bench his sophomore year than he did starting as a freshman.

“I'll respect him for the rest of my life,” Smith said in appreciation.

A few months later, before a fall practice on Halloween, Reid searched for a costume. His roommate reached into a bag and pulled out one for Tommy from the cartoon “Rugrats” — an oversized, plush diaper and a turquoise cutoff T-shirt. Reid claimed it immediately.

“It's funny because he kind of waddles,” senior right fielder Antoine Duplantis said. “It made it even worse that he had a diaper on because he couldn't really run normal. It would fall off."

Reid later posted a photo on Instagram of himself practicing in the costume, showing off thighs that hadn’t seen the sun in quite some time. He wrote the caption: “I may or may not have had applesauce and a Capri Sun hidden in my diaper …"

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LSU third baseman Chris Reid (17) stands defensively at third base against California, Saturday, March 9, 2019, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. California defeated LSU 5-2 in seven innings.

One of the great myths about Reid, and part of the reason fans find him endearing, is the belief he is awkwardly unathletic — an idea created because of how slowly he runs. After a game last March, Mainieri said: “He can’t run from here to there in a day and doesn’t have any power, but he puts the bat on the ball as good as anybody we have on the team." 

Reid responded through Twitter: “I challenge thee to a race Tuesday at practice! Be there!” 

The race never happened. But answering questions following a game earlier this season, Reid had not forgotten the challenge he presented to his coach.

“We're still working on that,” Reid said. “I don't know if he's forgotten about it or not. He has a better memory than me. I'm assuming he knows. We'll get that tied down one day.”

What’s strange about Reid’s supposed lack of athletic ability is that it’s not really true.

Other than straight-line speed, he plays sports with ease. He never went through coach pitch because he thought it was too slow. He punted and kicked in high school, once making a 47-yard field goal. Former LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron talked to him about walking on to LSU’s football team.

When Reid started dating his girlfriend, Shelby, who won a Louisiana state title in tennis, he picked up the sport. The first time they played together, he hit a one-handed backhand.

“Where did you learn that from?” Shelby asked.

“I don’t know,” Reid said, shrugging. “I saw it on TV.”

Still, he has his awkward moments. The same day he hit that home run, he fell backward catching a pop-up.

Following a season in which Reid batted .267 while appearing in 47 games, Mainieri cut him because LSU needed to reach the NCAA’s 35-player roster limit. 

Reid had played baseball since he was 3 years old, filling spring breaks and summer vacations with the sport. Thinking his career had ended, Reid slipped into the life of a regular student. He played basketball at LSU’s student rec center every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night. He spent an estimated $75 a week playing golf. He coached two youth baseball teams. He moved on.

Almost six months passed when Duplantis called him one day in late January.

Mainieri had informed Duplantis he wanted to bring Reid back to solidify LSU’s infield depth and return his presence to the clubhouse. Duplantis told Reid to expect a call from Mainieri, and he emphasized the players wanted him back, too.

The day Reid rejoined LSU’s team, he couldn’t open the locker room door. He swiped his keycard, but it didn’t budge. He texted someone to come help. Once inside, Reid acted like he had never left. He cracked jokes and, when LSU began practice, he started his own stretching line.

“He's like the 15-year veteran who skips most of spring training,” Mainieri said, “and then he's ready to go.”

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LSU third baseman Chris Reid (17) bats against California, Saturday, March 9, 2019, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. California defeated LSU 5-2 in seven innings.

Reid slipped back into baseball. Somehow, despite not hitting since last year’s SEC tournament, he rediscovered the mechanics he lost during his sophomore and junior seasons. He started for the first time this year against Texas. That game, he charged a couple bunts and threw out the runners at first — plays he admitted he couldn’t have made before this year.

“I'm able to read the ball quicker,” Reid said. “My reactions are quicker.”

How did that happen when he went so long without playing baseball? The question made Reid pause.

“I have no idea,” he said, slightly bewildered. “I've always been kind of a weird cat when it comes to stuff like that.”

As well as Reid has played — heading into Friday's Southeastern Conference opener against Kentucky, he's batting .321 — Mainieri will not commit to him starting the rest of the year.

Reid could regress toward his career averages, and Mainieri does not like to set his lineup so far ahead. No matter how Reid’s season ends, if he’s a starter or a pinch hitter, he will have fun.

That’s the thing about Chris Reid. He would enjoy playing baseball if this experience weren't happening. His attitude never changed when he lost his starting role, and it hasn’t changed now that he’s starting again.

“I'm having a blast out there,” Reid said. “I'm out there with my teammates, we're winning and we're playing the game of baseball in front of the best fans in the country. There's not much you can complain about.”

After games, Reid sits in his uniform, reclining in his locker. His teammates shower. The room falls quiet around him as they leave. But Reid leans back, playing games on his phone, sometimes for another hour. He’s in no rush for the moment to end.


Follow Wilson Alexander on Twitter, @whalexander_.