Kyle Bouman takes rough road to LSU

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- LSU's Kyle Bouman acknowledges fans before the Tigers' Feb. 14 season opener against UNO at Alex Box Stadium. Bouman will start against Arkansas on Sunday in the teams' series finale. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- LSU's Kyle Bouman acknowledges fans before the Tigers' Feb. 14 season opener against UNO at Alex Box Stadium. Bouman will start against Arkansas on Sunday in the teams' series finale.

The man on the mound Saturday at Zephyr Field has been through a lot. A drunken car crash. Two previous colleges. Family and financial issues. But Paul Mainieri believed enough in Kyle Bouman to roll the dice. He’s giving the pitcher a second chance.

“He faced his problems head-on. A lot of guys will look at the second chance and go along on the same path. He knew he needed to take a different path.” SAM CAREL, Jefferson College baseball coach, on Kyle Bouman

Kyle Bouman’s 2000 Toyota Camry hit the tree in such a way that his car scaled the trunk, stopped halfway up and then fell back to the ground top-down.

A woozy Bouman sat in the driver’s seat, airbag stuffed in his face and seat belt strapped across his chest.

He was drunk.

“It changed every aspect of my life,” Bouman said. “For a while, I didn’t think baseball was an option.”

The drunken driving wreck in June 2012 appeared to ruin Bouman’s baseball future. He had killed his own dreams and aspirations.

On Saturday at Zephyr Field, they will be very much alive again.

Bouman, a Missourian who says he’s rid of his drinking past, will start on the mound for LSU against UNO, the Tigers’ second game of the 2014 season.

Bouman’s route to this point was anything but typical.

That wreck — his third drinking-related incident at Wichita State — ended his brief career as a relief pitcher at the school.

The next 12 months were a roller coaster of emotions: He joined a substance-abuse class, enrolled in a Missouri junior college, developed into the team’s stellar ace and then soared to new pitching heights in summer ball.

Connections between LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn and Bouman’s summer league led to an official visit to Baton Rouge last summer.

That led to an offer.

Before bringing the pitcher in on a visit, coach Paul Mainieri vetted Bouman. He uncovered the drunken-while-intoxicated arrest and wreck in Kansas.

During the recruiting process over the summer, Bouman admitted to the coach that he’d had a drinking problem and that it was under control.

Mainieri calls the decision to bring in Bouman “a gamble” and said “we’re not out of the water yet,” but he feels strongly the pitcher will continue to stay out of trouble.

“This is how I feel: Kids make mistakes, but as long as they didn’t hurt anybody, then sometimes you can give them a second opportunity,” Mainieri said earlier this week. “This is a kid that I felt was worth it, worth taking the chance on and, you know, if he has this under control and has learned his lesson, I think he can be a very productive person in society.”

Bouman — of legal drinking age, having turned 21 in September — says he still drinks “every now and then,” but that it’s “nowhere near” what it was two years ago.

On the field, an impressive fall and preseason practice won Bouman the No. 2 starting job — at least for now.

Coaches describe him as a solid pitcher, but one who won’t blow away hitters.

“He’s not going to strike out a lot of batters,” Mainieri said. “We need to play good defense behind him.”

It’s hard for Bouman to believe that he’ll step on the mound Saturday and pitch for LSU, a team ranked by most preseason polls in the top 10.

“If you told me this about a year a half ago, that I’d be here starting the second game, I’d think you were crazy, honestly,” Bouman said.

He admits that he’s lucky to even be alive.

On a gravel road on that June 2012 night, he lost control of his car and swerved into that tree. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital. Aside from some minor scratches and a red mark the seat belt left across his chest, Bouman wasn’t hurt.

His car was totaled.

The accident followed a tumultuous freshman year at Wichita State. He had a 2.18 ERA in 20 innings as a reliever, but off the field, he found trouble twice: He was caught drinking at a football game and was busted with several others drinking at a sorority party.

The third strike was the crash.

He moved back home to Ferguson, Mo., a small St. Louis suburb before his mother Mary, a probation officer, encouraged him to return to baseball.

That fall, he enrolled in Jefferson College, a community college about an hour from his home, and he joined a six-week substance abuse class — an eye-opening experience, he said.

Bouman’s pitching really took off.

He finished that sophomore season at Jefferson College with a 1.71 ERA and then went 5-0 with a 2.34 ERA in summer ball with the Wisconsin-based Lakeshore Chinooks.

“Kyle has taken great advantage of the second opportunity he had,” said Sam Carel, the coach at Jefferson College, who noted that Bouman didn’t find trouble in his lone year there.

“He faced his problems head-on,” he continued. “A lot of guys will look at the second chance and go along on the same path. He knew he needed to take a different path.”

Bouman’s father, Al, is an admitted alcoholic, according to a column written in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in December 2011 detailing the family’s financial issues. The Boumans had issues paying Kyle’s private high school tuition because of Al’s drinking problems.

Things are better these days, Kyle Bouman said. He speaks to his dad nearly every day.

Al and Mary realize the hurdles their son has crossed — some self-made. He’ll step on the mound Saturday and try to cross another.

“He’s extremely proud of me,” Kyle said of his dad. “It’s nice when you hear your parents say they’re proud of you.”