LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri preaches to his players that every team starts from scratch. They can’t start a new season thinking they’re picking up where they left off in the previous one.
Though the 2013 Tigers will start from scratch when preseason practice begins Friday, they still plan to hit the ground running once they dispense with their Media Day obligations and take their team picture.
“On Friday, we will try to simulate opening day,” Mainieri said. “We’ll jump right into our pregame routine, take batting practice and have a six-inning scrimmage.”
Mainieri said the pitchers have thrown bullpen sessions with pitching coach Alan Dunn and thrown some simulated games.
LSU will have intrasquad scrimmages each Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday leading up to the season opener against Maryland on Feb. 15 at Alex Box Stadium.
Though coaches can’t require players to do anything on their own time, Mainieri said players invariably take it upon themselves to hone their skills and wind up displaying improvement from the end of fall practice to the start of preseason practice.
“Baseball is the kind of sport that requires specialized skills,” Mainieri said. “Guys can take a lot of swings and field balls. We give them some guidance on what we would like them to do on their own.
“When you work with freshmen for the first time in the fall, they have certain weaknesses. Then they go away, and even though we’re not working with them, they generally get better. They work on their weaknesses, and they come back with a more confident attitude.”
Mainieri said he already has seen improvement from the freshmen, more than a half-dozen of whom should compete for significant playing time.
“You can already tell that the freshmen are carrying themselves differently,” Mainieri said. “They have more confidence, they have their chin up more, they have more of a feeling that they belong.”
Though the Tigers are the reigning Southeastern Conference champions, they fell one victory short of a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., last season.
“When you come to LSU, the goal every year is to get to Omaha,” said senior outfielder Raph Rhymes, who batted a school-record .431 last season. “That’s it. During the offseason, we had a pretty determined group of seniors and young guys who understand how close we got.
“We’ve been working to get our feet on the ground again and feel like baseball players again. We’ve been hitting a lot of batting practice and doing some defensive work, communicating on pop flies so that we’re ready to start scrimmaging right away.”
Senior first baseman Mason Katz said players didn’t wait for the start of the spring semester to get back on the field. Several players kept working during the holidays.
“Come Friday, the focus is on building on the major aspects of baseball rather than the tedious stuff,” Katz said. “We wanted to have the little things down already. When you start playing in front of 10,000, 11,000, 12,000 fans, your head can be spinning, and if you can let your natural instincts take over, it’s helpful to the team.”
Katz said the players have worked on fundamentals such as bunting and cutoffs. They’ve even shagged pop-ups at different hours of the day to get acclimated to the location of the sun at different times.
The idea is to be as far along as possible when the Tigers take the field Friday, hoping to return to the position they were in last season when they won the opener of the best-of-three super regional against Stony Brook — and finish it off this time.
“(The offseason) seemed so long because we couldn’t wait to start playing again,” Katz said. “All of us who were here last year, and even those who were watching knowing they were coming here and saw what happened — we all have that bad taste from last year.
“That’s never going to go away until we get to that point this year and hopefully take that one extra step that we missed. We wanted to play a little longer last year, and that’s fuel for us to burn this year.”
Taking that extra step will be a popular topic of conversation at Media Day, but the Tigers know Friday is just the first step in a long, long season.
“Just because you went to a super regional last year doesn’t guarantee that you’ll go back this year,” Rhymes said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a 56-game schedule, and every game is tough. Nothing is guaranteed. We have to take care of business in the regular season.”
Two more preseason polls were released Thursday, and LSU received its highest and lowest rankings thus far. The Tigers were ranked No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and No. 10 in the Baseball America poll. Previously, LSU was ranked No. 4 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 5 by Perfect Game.