LSU outfielder Antoine Duplantis knows what it feels like to be Marilyn Munster. By the end of the baseball season, he might know what it feels like to be Eddy Furniss.
When the Tigers start the 2019 season Feb. 15 in their quest for a return to the College World Series, Duplantis will begin stalking Furniss’ SEC record for career hits. He needs 85 to catch the former Tigers first baseman and College Baseball Hall of Famer at 352.
That’s heady company for a guy who looks like an athletic outcast in his own family, similar to the female character in the 1960s TV show “The Munsters,” an oddball in a macabre-looking household.
If his last name sounds familiar, it’s because his parents, Greg (pole vault) and Helena (heptathlon), were Tiger track standouts. His three siblings are all pole vaulters, among them brother Armand “Mondo” Duplantis, the junior world-record holder and LSU freshman.
At Friday’s media day, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri kidded that Duplantis was the “sixth-best athlete” in his own family.
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“That’s why I chose baseball, because I am the worst athlete in the family,” Duplantis laughed afterward.
Actually, Mainieri admits Duplantis is one of his favorites for the reasons that put him in position to set a lofty record. In three seasons, Duplantis has missed only one of 206 games and started in 204, compiling 268 hits in 828 at-bats for a .324 career batting average.
“He lines up and plays every day, and he practices the same way he plays in games,” Mainieri said. “He’ll go out and play balls off the hitters in batting practice just to refine his ability. He’s one of the best outfielders in the league but keeps trying to get better.
“I want so badly for us to win but I also want badly for Antoine to break that record,” Mainieri said.
Duplantis admits he does, too, but only in the context of the team’s success. He didn’t turn down the Cleveland Indians, who picked him in the 19th round of the MLB draft, to chase a record in his senior season, even if his grandfather did mention he had a shot a year ago.
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“It’s definitely in the back of my head,” said Duplantis, ticketed to start in right field. “It’s not going to overwhelm me and I’m not going to be what I’m thinking about every time I go to the plate. It’s a really long season and will take a lot of hits to get there. But it will be a fun run.”
Mainieri said Duplantis will start the season batting leadoff, which will get him maximum opportunities, but he will stay there only if the middle of the order “hits in the clutch and drives in runs.” Mainieri knows he can move Duplantis if he needs to juice up the offense.
Duplantis has been remarkably consistent. His individual season hit totals are 89, 90 and 89. He’s not a power hitter but does have 55 extra-base hits, including 13 career triples. His career on-base percentage is .381. In the outfield he’s made only three errors and has 12 assists.
Mainieri feels Duplantis is underrated in his three seasons, having never been named All-SEC. But he’s won numerous other honors including 2016 Freshman All-America, 2017 College World Series all-tournament and was twice named to SEC all-tournament teams.
He added a huge honor last summer when he joined teammates Zack Hess and Zach Watson on the U.S. Collegiate National team, coached by Mainieri. That didn’t last long; Duplantis was injured when he crashed into the outfield fence during an exhibition game and was replaced by teammate Daniel Cabrera.
Duplantis’ iron-man status was put to the test with a separated AC joint in his shoulder, but he said he’s fully recovered.
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“I didn’t have a really good feel for fly balls at that time,” he said. “It had been two or three weeks since I played live. I was probably a little too excited to be back on the field. I’ll be a little more cautious but not too cautious.”
Duplantis is LSU’s toughest out at the plate, Hess confirms.
“He’s the most terrible guy to pitch to,” Hess said. “He’s the best hitter in the history of the SEC. It’s not even close. I’m not saying it because he’s on my team and he’s my boy. I tell him that because it’s the truth. I faced every kind of hitter in the SEC the past three years, I faced international competition, and AD is the toughest guy to get out and it’s not even close.
“He has a great self-identity of who he is. It’s a real professional approach. He’s extremely talented. He knows how to maximize his game. He’s a big-leaguer.”
LSU baseball never has to worry about tempering expectations. They are high and waiting from the last day of one season to the last day of the next.
He’s also one of the keys to the Tigers' success. With a mixture of youth and veterans, the example he sets will help determine how quickly the Tigers' consensus No. 1-ranked recruiting class gets up to speed.
“I expect him to go out every day and be the leader of our team,” Mainieri said.
Having seen so much in so many games and so many at-bats, Duplantis seems equipped to handle the job.
“We need to figure out a way to start clicking as soon as possible,” Duplantis said. “I remember that 2017 year we had a nice mix of old and young guys. We went through some struggles that year. Who’s to say that doesn’t happen this year? The biggest thing is to continue to get better and be playing our best ball in May.”