Shortstop Alex Bregman doesn’t merely tolerate the national championship expectations that power LSU’s baseball program. He embraces them — and mixes in his own obsession, too.
“Obsession is a young man’s game.”
— Michael Caine, “The Prestige”
You need a guy like Alex Bregman if you’re going to win the national championship.
Not just for his ability to swing a baseball bat at an All-America level (he batted .369 as a freshman last year) or field his position at shortstop like his glove was a vacuum cleaner attachment.
You need Bregman because he is OBSESSED with playing baseball.
And winning a national championship.
Two days. That’s how many days since LSU’s 2013 season ended June 18 with a loss to North Carolina in the College World Series that Bregman didn’t swing a baseball bat. And that, he said, was because he was sick and his doctor practically threatened him into a temporary state of inertia.
The ice storm days that twice wrapped Baton Rouge in a frozen blanket the past week or so? Bregman was chopping wood in LSU’s covered cages. It’s like after a game, when you’ll often see him back on the field with some unfortunate soul of an LSU student manager, having them hit him grounders until in his mind he’s done enough.
LSU won 57 games last year, tying a school record. The Tigers won the Southeastern Conference tournament in an epic showdown with SEC regular-season champion Vanderbilt, whom LSU didn’t play last year until then. The Tigers got back to their 16th College World Series and first since winning it in 2009.
But LSU didn’t win it this time. The Tigers were two and the dreaded barbecue.
For most teams, that would be a season for the ages. They’ve probably composed ballads and commissioned statues at Stony Brook for having pretty much that kind of season in 2012.
But at LSU, where coach Paul Mainieri and Bregman and the rest of the Tigers have to walk past six national championship plaques and six fluttering national championship flags every time they enter Alex Box Stadium, it isn’t enough.
“No. Not to my standards at all,” Bregman said. “Until we’re standing on top winning a national championship, it won’t be good enough. Then the next day after we win, it won’t be good enough until we win it again.”
A toast, then, to impossible standards. Long will they wave outside LSU’s home ballpark. It’s just the beast that Mainieri and Skip Bertman and Todd Walker and Ben McDonald and Eddy Furniss and Warren Morris and Ryan Theriot and Brad Cresse have built there.
There’s no dismantling it or diluting it. It’s simply a fact of baseball life at LSU. If you don’t want it, badly, you’d better go play somewhere else.
“Out here,” Mainieri said during Friday’s twice ice-delayed LSU baseball media day, “people don’t want to hear excuses. They just want to see you reload and get ready to go.”
LSU has plenty of reloading to do if the Tigers are to live up to preseason polls that have them ranked as high as No. 2 in the country.
They have to identify a new starting catcher, first baseman and second baseman, a bullpen ace and a third weekend starter to work behind LSU’s other All-American, junior right-hander Aaron Nola. And someone has to be the one to hit behind Bregman in the lineup. Otherwise, teams are going to tiptoe around him like the 190-pound keg of TNT that he is.
For what it’s worth, Bregman oozes enough confidence in the teammates around him that it can trickle down and fuel the rest of the team.
“Competition has been great,” he said. “Offensively, I think we’re going to be great. I think we’re going to play great defense as well. Whoever wins the job will do a hell of a job for us.”
If LSU is to ascend to the seventh heaven of another national championship, Bregman will have to be what Louis Coleman was to the Tigers’ previous national championship squad in 2009.
Early that season, Coleman went to Mainieri and told him he was willing to put his baseball future on the line for a national championship. Starting. Working out of the bullpen on two days’ rest. Whatever it took.
“I told him I wanted to win a national championship,” Coleman said then. “If my arm falls off and I don’t play after college, I don’t care. I just want to win. He thinks I’m dumb sometimes when I tell him that. But I care so much about LSU, and I just want to pitch.”
What Coleman said is not something a 30-something man likely would say. Obsession is a young man’s game, and it’s that obsession that will have to drive LSU to the heights in 2014.
“I came to college to put on the purple and gold, win a championship and bring that ring back to Baton Rouge,” Bregman said. “It drives me more than anything. That’s why I do what I do: To be the best, you have to win.”
And at LSU, you have to win it all. No excuses. Nothing less will do.