Ex-Tiger 1B now undergraduate assistant
Blake Dean said professional baseball wasn’t any fun for him anymore, so he decided to return to where it had always been the most fun.
That place is LSU, where Dean played from 2007-10 and left his name littered throughout the record book.
His standout career enticed the Los Angeles Dodgers to select him in the eighth round of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft, but as Dean prepared for his third spring training a couple of months ago, he pondered early retirement.
He had hit .302 with five home runs and 35 RBIs for the Dodgers’ rookie league team in Ogden, Utah, in 2010 and .237 with seven homers and 44 RBIs with Class A Great Lakes in 2011.
“It was an ongoing decision,” Dean said Thursday. “I never questioned my talent. I could hit. I just wasn’t enjoying it day in and day out. I had accomplished so much at LSU. I had played in front of 30,000 fans (at the College World Series). I had made so many friends there and had so much fun. It wasn’t the same (professionally).”
Dean told Tigers coach Paul Mainieri how he felt, and he said Mainieri encouraged him not to rush into a decision. “He said at least go to spring training,” Dean said, “and if you’re done, you’re done.”
A few days before the end of spring training Dean knew “it was time to move on,” and he told that to the Dodgers farm director.
Mainieri offered Dean an opportunity to be an undergraduate assistant for the 2012-13 year as Dean completes the final 18 hours for his general studies degree.
Dean doesn’t have a clearly defined role yet, but Mainieri said he expects him to have a positive influence with the players, who are well aware of the impact he had on the program. Four of the Tigers — Mason Katz, Alex Edward, Joey Bourgeois and Michael Reed — were teammates of Dean’s when he was a senior and they were freshmen.
“Just having Blake around can be nothing but a positive,” Mainieri said. “The younger players know what Blake accomplished here, but our seniors can tell them firsthand what a great player he was and that gives him immediate credibility and respect. They can look at him and see someone who knows what it takes to be successful.”
Dean is one of the most prolific hitters in LSU history. He ranks second in career hits (332), RBIs (260) and total bases (575), is third in doubles (63), fourth in home runs (56), fifth in runs (223) and seventh in walks (148). He’ll be able to help Maineiri and assistant coaches Javi Sanchez and Will Davis in working with the hitters.
“My whole goal is not to step on any feet or toes,” Dean said. “I know this for a fact, though. Coach Mainieri said I’m going to throw lots of left-handed batting practice.”
Dean’s LSU experience will be a familiar one to the current Tigers. In his freshman season, the Tigers failed to qualify for the Southeastern Conference tournament, then went to the College World Series and finished fifth, returned to the CWS and won it, then in his senior season the Tigers’ season ended in an NCAA regional.
In 2011, LSU failed to qualify for the SEC tournament, then this past season fell just one win short of going back to the College World Series.
“What he has to say will carry a lot of weight,” Mainieri said. “He was an all-American and did some great things here. He’s been around the atmosphere of expectations.”
Next season Dean will have an opportunity to help the team take the next step, though his one-year stint will end just before his younger brother, Dakota, arrives on campus. Dakota, a shortstop who will be a high school senior next season, already has committed to LSU.
Blake said Dakota has a “pretty similar swing” to his.
Dean has been getting a head-start on his coaching career by providing individual instructions to youngsters in twice-weekly workouts at Brusly High School.
“I’ve been giving a lot of hitting lessons,” Dean said. “I enjoy that aspect of it, seeing the kids get better. I want to see the coaching side of it, work with coach Mainieri behind the scenes.”
Dean said he was at Alex Box Stadium as the Tigers swept through the Baton Rouge Regional, then won the first game before losing the last two against Stony Brook in the Baton Rouge Super Regional. He said he found himself being a little more analytical as he watched the game, often predicting when Mainieri would call for a steal, bunt or hit-and-run for the fans seated near him.
“Baseball is all about trying to stay ahead,” Dean said. “That’s what I did as a hitter, tried to stay a step or two ahead of the pitcher and anticipate what was coming.”
As a hitter Dean could empathize with the Tigers, whose hitting waned during the super regional. LSU lost the last two games by a combined score of 10-3.
“Pitching and defense win games, but you’ve got to hit and score too,” Dean said. “You can get 20 hits one game and get two in the next. That’s baseball. It’s tough to see those guys work so hard and then come up a little short in the end.”
Dean said he’s unsure what awaits him after he gets his degree and finishes his one-year stint on the coaching staff, though he finds the teaching intriguing.
“I might be able to get together with some of the guys I played with and develop something,” he said. “I want to stay in the game. Playing it every day got to be too much, but I’m happy to be back at a place I enjoyed so much, where I had so much success.”