As the LSU baseball team approached first pitch for Tuesday's game against Southeastern, Bill Franques walked out of Alex Box Stadium, and he could hear starting lineups ring out over the speakers behind him.
Franques had come to the ballpark earlier that day to help with game preparations and answer questions for his substitute. But, three days from surgery to address prostate cancer, he left before the game started.
Franques, known as "The Voice of Alex Box Stadium," has spent 31 years with the LSU baseball team, 30 as the Tigers’ public address announcer. He had never missed a game at the now-10-year-old stadium.
“I did something I've never done,” Franques said. “I followed the game on Twitter.”
Franques underwent surgery at noon Friday. A few hours later, as the Tigers prepared to play Bryant, a representative from LSU said surgery was a success.
Franques, a 1985 LSU graduate, fills a wide array of roles for the LSU baseball team. He provides color analysis for radio broadcasts when the team plays on the road. He directs media relations. He’s the public address announcer at home games. Last year, LSU placed Franques’ face on a ticket.
"Bill is one of the very best in the business," LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement. "His character, professionalism and loyalty to LSU are unmatched. He and his family have the complete support of everyone here at LSU. We look forward to having him back full time very soon."
Franques, 55, had been tested annually for prostate cancer for more than a decade. At his annual physical last spring, his primary care physician noticed rising scores on a prostate-specific antigen test.
Franques’ doctor told him that instead of waiting another year, they ought to do another test in six months to "see where we are."
Another test in December showed Franques had reached a threshold that created suspicion he had prostate cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in American men.
Results of a biopsy in mid-January revealed he had an early, treatable stage of prostate cancer. Later tests said the cancer had not spread past his prostate.
After the results came back, LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who referred to Franques as one of his “best friends,” told players about Franques’ diagnosis during a team meeting.
“We were all pretty sad,” catcher Brock Mathis said. “I let him know every time I see him that I'm praying for him. I let my family know to pray for him. He's going to be OK.”
Determined to maintain a positive outlook, Franques continued to perform his job after his diagnosis. He sent emails the morning of his surgery, and the day he left Alex Box before the game started, Franques let the public know he had prostate cancer in an interview with WAFB-TV. He hoped sharing his story could motivate someone else to get tested.
“It'll save somebody else's life,” Mainieri said, “which I think is very typical of Bill, to be thinking about others before himself.”
Franques received a wave of support after news of his situation became public. The daughter of former Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive, who died of prostate cancer last year, asked Franques if he wanted to participate in the Mike Slive Foundation for prostate cancer research.
As Franques approached surgery to remove his prostate, he maintained confidence, but he also admitted he experienced “fleeing moments of anxiety.”
“It still doesn't quite feel real,” Franques said two days before surgery. “I don't think it will until I'm laying on a gurney. Hopefully the anxiety levels won't feel too high then.”
But the surgery went well Friday, LSU representatives said, and as the Tigers warmed up for the opening of a three-game series, Franques moved to recovery.
Franques hopes to return to Alex Box Stadium on March 8 when the Tigers play Cal. As a precaution, he won’t travel with the team until April, when he hopes to return full-time.
His presence — and thus, his voice — will be absent from Alex Box Stadium in the meantime. (Ronnie Rantz, Victor Howell and Dan Borné will take turns behind the microphone while he's gone.)
But when Franques returns, he will be free of prostate cancer.
“Before you know it,” Mainieri said, “he's going to be back at the Box and all healed up.”