To dogpile or not to dogpile, that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to wait until Omaha or …
Well, OK, college baseball teams deciding how to celebrate conference, regional and super regional titles is a less weighty issue than what Price Hamlet contemplated in Shakespeare’s play.
Nonetheless, the proper protocol for baseball players piling on top of one another in celebration of various championships is a popular topic this time of year.
LSU and each of the other seven teams headed to the College World Series celebrated their trips to Omaha, Neb., by dogpiling.
Before that North Carolina — the No. 1 national seed, mind you — dogpiled after twice fighting back from extinction to beat upstart Florida Atlantic and win its regional finale 12-11 in 13 innings.
LSU dogpiled when it won the Southeastern Conference Tournament title, which meant virtually nothing to its postseason future.
Alabama even had a mini-dogpile to celebrate a walk-off win against the Tigers in late April, for crying out loud.
Are all these dogpiles just piling on? Is that an appropriate way to celebrate anything less than a national championship?
“I will never, ever do anything to pull back on their enthusiasm, passion or love of the game unless it was something that would be offensive to the other team or be in poor taste or poor sportsmanship,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
What about the risk of injury when there are games still to be played?
Mainieri said he’s willing to take that risk because “the chances are so limited.”
But it has happened.
Former LSU pitcher Lane Mestepey’s CWS start in 2004 was pushed back because of a shoulder injury he incurred at the bottom of dogpile at the end of the Tigers’ super regional victory against Texas A&M.
In 2010, Tigers pitcher Anthony Ranaudo had his nonthrowing hand stepped on by two teammates as they ascended the dogpile after LSU won the SEC Tournament, but he didn’t miss time.
The pitcher who gets the final out usually gets the worst of it, which happened to Tigers closer Chris Cotton, who at 166 pounds is the lightest player on the team, Saturday after LSU finished off Oklahoma in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
Cotton said the moment was everything he had dreamed, though “a little less pain at the bottom of the dogpile would have been nice.”
Outfielders Raph Rhymes and Jared Foster avoided injury, but not each other when they collided after going airborne above the pile.
“It was a lot like a running back going over the line and a linebacker meeting him,” Rhymes said.
Rhymes found himself at the bottom of a dogpile when he was playing second base as his LSU-Eunice team won the Division II National Junior College Championship in 2010.
“I got a bad deal out of it,” Rhymes lamented. But last Saturday he was a latecomer to the pile as he trotted in from the dugout after having been pulled for a pinch-runner.
Rhymes is usually in a good spot in left field anyway.
“That’s the good thing about playing outfield,” he said, “you can wait, see the dogpile form and judge your leaping.”
Rhymes knows he’ll have no such luxury should he provide a game-winning hit that wins the CWS for LSU.
“That’s when you have to find a way to stay on your feet and let someone else fall,” Rhymes said, “then you get on top.”
In any event, Rhymes is OK with pre-Omaha dogpiles.
“As hard as it is to get to Omaha, I think it deserves a dogpile,” Rhymes said. “There are only eight teams that are going to be playing for a national championship.”
Mainieri recalled the 2002 season when his Notre Dame team won a regional for the first time in 45 years and dogpiled after earning a trip to play at Florida State in a super regional that they later won.
A Florida State player was quoted as saying the Seminoles saved their dogpile for the final game in Omaha.
They have a lot of dogpiles stored up because they haven’t won a title in 21 trips to Omaha.
“That team went 60-14,” Mainieri said, “and what a shame that they never really celebrated the entire year.”
It’s two dogpiles down, one to go for the Tigers.
“Each dogpile gets more significant,” first baseman Mason Katz said. “The SEC Tournament is fun. You stay calm and have a little dogpile, then in a super regional you’re going to Omaha so it’s a little bigger and you’re excited, but you’re still not done. You know to really protect yourself in the first two.”
But, Katz said, not so if number three happens.
“I’m going full in, swan diving on top,” Katz said. “I promise you I won’t be afraid to get hurt in that thing.”
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