Mike Papierski emerged from LSU’s indoor batting cage perplexed. He donned purple shorts and a black T-shirt, unfamiliar attire for a Tuesday practice. Catching coach Nolan Cain leaned on the dugout to answer his starter’s unusual query.
“Do I need to put pants on now,” Papierski asked.
Cain advised him to wait. Still donning his shorts, Papierski walked into the batting cages to take swings alongside his teammates modeling the same wardrobe, part of a “casual Tuesday” approach before the Tigers attempt to remedy their midweek woes against Southeastern Louisiana at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Alex Box Stadium.
The dress was part of coach Paul Mainieri’s plan for a more carefree approach to midweek games after two weeks of uninspired, unfocused efforts in home losses to Tulane and McNeese.
Customarily, LSU endures intense, full-scale practices in full uniform early in the week, saving their dilute days for later in the week prior to SEC series.
“Our typical Thursday practices are almost like a walk-through in football, a little bit more intense than that,” Mainieri explained. “I try to keep it relaxed and have fun … it’s a very mentally taxing sports. So sometimes on a given day it’s better to let them relax mentally as much as anything. We’ve had success on the weekends throughout my career here where it’s a loose, fun atmosphere.”
Success has followed in the last two weekends, where the Tigers are 6-2 and possess wins against Vanderbilt ace Jordan Sheffield and Missouri phenom Tanner Houck.
Midweek triumphs, though, have lagged. A program with a 59-3 record in midweek games in its last four seasons has lost three already this season against one of the tougher slate of in-state opponents in recent memory.
LSU’s three losses are a road game to Lamar and home setbacks to Tulane and McNeese in consecutive weeks — all of which had RPIs better than 65 entering Tuesday night. Southeastern enters Wednesday’s game at No. 62.
And while opponent quality has bettered, the inexperienced LSU team’s focus has not.
Hitting coach Andy Cannizaro paced outside the first-base dugout after last Tuesday’s lifeless 7-0 loss against McNeese where LSU mustered two hits. He politely requested reporters hasten their postgame interviews.
“Team room,” he told players assembled to speak. “Now.”
Once inside, any politeness disappeared.
“Very serious,” Kramer Robertson said of the gathering. “It got our attention. Andy’s never one to show a ton of emotion, especially negative emotion. He was upset, but it kind of also lit a fire under us at the same time and it got us going. You’ve seen what we’ve done since he lit into us.”
Cannizaro’s ire came from the lackadaisical attitude and focus with which the team approached an in-state opponent that, on paper, it was more talented than.
“They can’t just roll the balls out there and expect to beat people because their jersey says LSU,” Cannizaro said. “In reality, what we talk about with these guys is, every time your jersey does say LSU and you show up, you’re going to get that opposing team’s very best effort. If we don’t match every single team’s intensity level and focus to win that ballgame, we can have moments like we have the last couple midweeks where we haven’t performed or played well.”
The problems are that of a young team, one that’s apparently finally adapted to Southeastern Conference play but still searches for consistency in the games leading up to it.
“We’re talking about it,” Robertson said.”We have to approach this game tomorrow like it’s Vanderbilt or an SEC opponent or else they’re very capable of embarrassing you, just like last week.”
Tuesday’s mellow walkthrough is seen as a reward.
“I told (the young guys) practice is a lot more fun when you win,” Robertson said. “So let’s continue to win so we can have more practices than this.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome