Editor’s note: This is a first-person account of ESPN baseball analyst Doug Glanville’s experience at the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
I grew up in Teaneck, N.J., a town on the forefront of integration in the 1950s. By the time I came along, in 1970, the town was shifting toward a celebration of diversity, giving people access to each other who were historically strangers, or even enemies.
I came to embrace my melting-pot community with all my heart. So I developed a passion for people who could step outside themselves to embrace someone different, embrace an idea that was different.
Baseball is a game that has done well to embody that idea, pushing the envelope to be inclusive even before the country was ready. In turn, it set a good example for hospitality, a good example for how to love a game — to have the fierce will to win, but still shake hands with your opponent. We can share this sentiment because we all were passionate about the same thing: the game.
I arrived in Baton Rouge last Thursday with a lot on my mind. After three years working for ESPN, I had never covered a college baseball game. I also had never been to Baton Rouge. My only context for LSU was my brief encounters with alumni Lyle Mouton or Rick Greene, or my extended time with teammates in Philadelphia, Chad Ogea or Paul Byrd. But for the most part, I knew nothing.
Once I landed at the airport, I had to scramble. We were set to meet a few key players and the head coaches for Stony Brook and LSU. I did as much research as I could in the days prior, and I headed over to meet these teams with our producer and director.
The world saw this series as David versus Goliath or a male Cinderella looking for his slippers, but it didn’t take long to see there was a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Talking to Stony Brook, I knew how their pulse worked. I grew up on Northeast baseball, where you felt like you had to prove yourself time and time again. They were humble, but they had an edge. They needed to get into a certain zone to play in front of twice as many fans as they saw in their entire home season. They needed their best baseball on deck, especially given that they had heard 8-year-olds calling them “Tiger bait” at their practice.
Then we sat with the LSU contingent. It began with top draft choice Kevin Gausman. He was poised; he was energetic and open. When it boiled down to elements of his success that didn’t involve his rocket arm, he referenced that internal wisdom that told him he belonged at LSU and in the South.
“I knew I would fit in the South. I was always drinking sweet tea in Colorado,” he told us. He visited the campus, and that was all it took.
Then Raph Rhymes strolled in. He was unassuming, but you could tell there was a steady hum about him. It could be the way of Monroe, but it was more than that. He knew something. He was purposeful, he was efficient with his words, but he was also the best hitter in the college nation.
Like many of us, Rhymes was trying to know who his opponent was. … He eventually said he knew they had quite a few players drafted, and when we clarified that they have seven, he paused and said, “Well, that was more than I expected.” You saw success in him, a future. You knew that he could lead a nation in hitting, but come to think of it, he could probably lead a nation, period.
When it was time for LSU coach Paul Mainieri, we sat back. From the beginning, he was gracious and open. He used my first name with familiarity. It turns out he is close to former Cubs general manager, Jim Hendry, who was my GM (and before that, director) when I played for the Cubs.
He glowed of LSU, mostly from his passion for the charitable works of his players, like Austin Nola, who set the bar for great citizenship, or for the tears in his eyes that Rhymes brought on when Rhymes walked in and gave back his scholarship.
He was open. He was also genuinely aware that Stony Brook was a very good team. He just was unsure how they would fare at LSU, where teams could get clawed apart from the extra man they had in their 10,000 fans. When I asked him what stood out most about Stony Brook, he said, “They don’t strike out.”
Mainieri had genuine love for his program. He understood its legacy, he understood the fantastic facility Alex Box Stadium contained.
It was major league caliber. It had all the elements of a few spring training complexes I had played in, but he was most proud of those walls of fame that showed some of their academic success with their professional success. He loved sharing the story behind the sign that players saw when leaving the park through the fans. “This is LSU Baseball ...” with a picture of the players shaking hands with the fans after their championship.
I walked out feeling warm and fuzzy. I was still unclear on what to expect on the field, but I felt that like everyone else, I was welcome at LSU.
When the games began, everything happened at a frenetic pace. It did not take long to note that Stony Brook was no Cinderella. If anything, they were a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They truly did not “strike out,” to the point where they wore everyone down. As an announcer, I had to have a lot of extra stories on hand, just because their at-bats went on forever.
On one hand, I was proud being from the Northeast represented so well, but on the other hand, I truly felt neutral as LSU was a very gracious favored team. Fans told me where to eat breakfast. Every staff member bent over backward to accommodate. Every day you were there felt like purple and gold was becoming a part of you.
During Game 1, Stony Brook pitcher Brandon McNitt shut down the Tigers offense into the eighth inning. He was an unknown, someone who could inspire wrath in an overconfident opponent. But when he walked off the field, he received a standing ovation.
It is one thing to be hospitable; it is another to be so in the heat of the most important games of the season to LSU baseball. I was truly moved, because it was a reminder of what I grew up caring about.
After Game 2, I was stopped on the way to our production truck. Jefferies Morgan invited me out to tailgate. I learned about how LSU fans build vacations around the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., and that even if LSU doesn’t make it, they still go.
I also learned about how the LSU tailgaters invited their opponent to eat. They had taken care of Stony Brook’s families, as they had done for years for other opponents. After Game 3, Jefferies had jambalaya waiting for my ESPN team in the booth.
And when the series closed, the Seawolves had stunned the college baseball world with their tenacious play, knocking off their warm hosts in definitive fashion. As an analyst, I knew that upon close inspection, SBU was just plain good. I wasn’t really sure how LSU and its family would take it.
Stony Brook was dogpiling on the Tigers’ soil, and I looked past our monitors out into the field and saw LSU fans draped in purple and gold standing up, congratulating Stony Brook with sincere appreciation for how they played the game.
Coach Mainieri later express how they just simply “outplayed us” and that Stony Brook may well have been the best team they had seen all year.
He didn’t scoff at their win even as he was probably disturbed at this result or even shocked. He could have just let it go, hoping that Stony Brook gets trounced by Florida or UCLA. But he stood up and said the Seawolves were the better team in the series. Period. He gave credit where it was due.
I played baseball my entire life, and I still genuinely love the game. I have written about it from the moment I could not play it every day anymore. I have always enjoyed how baseball can be so powerful in connecting people from different places; that the game makes everyone speak the same language.
But my trip to Baton Rouge allowed me to see firsthand that you can have a dominant program and have class, be welcoming, be humble and have fans who love good baseball so much that they can appreciate great performances — even if they have to stand up and applaud the team that broke their heart.