LSU’s sparkling new Wally Pontiff Jr. Baseball Hall of Fame opens its doors
Tucked away on Alex Box Stadium’s ground level, just past the front gates, along the third-base side, the ghosts of LSU baseball are vividly embodied.
Monitors flicker through cyclical moments of elation, replaying highlights from championship seasons. The College World Series trophies are directly below.
Glass cases preserve the illuminated mementos of the not-too-distant glory days. Columns hold unblemished baseballs patiently waiting to be marked by former players. LSU baseball, past and present, collide and coalesce.
The Wally Pontiff Jr. Baseball Hall of Fame officially opens for public viewing Friday. It will be open from 2-4:30 p.m. and then again from 5 until first pitch at 7.
“It’s like Christmas,” said former LSU shortstop Austin Nola said of the Hall. “You could stay in there all day.”
It had always been the plan of Skip Bertman, the beloved former coach and athletic director, to include the Hall of Fame inside the new Alex Box Stadium. Now, four years after the stadium opened, everything is in place.
“It was Skip’s dream when he opened that stadium to have a museum and a hall of fame,” said LSU spokesman Herb Vincent. “Finally it’s come to fruition, and it’s better than we ever thought it could be.”
Though it is all confined to a single room, the Hall of Fame tangibly captures LSU baseball’s history with physical, sentimental objects.
Walking through the field-side entrance, on the right-hand side is a display case dedicated to Alex Box, for whom the original stadium was named in 1943.
The case includes a shadowbox, donated to LSU in 1991, which displays 1st Lt. Simeon A. Box’s purple heart and distinguished service cross he earned fighting in World War II.
“We never really had a home for it until right now,” said Bill Franques, the longtime LSU baseball sports information contact. “Finally, all that memorabilia has its rightful place, and it demonstrates the valor of the man that the stadium is named for.”
The center of the room is shaped like a baseball diamond, with purple carpeting in place of green grass. The room has a display case for each era of LSU baseball; going from early history to the Skip Bertman years to the modern era.
Among the more unique pieces is a uniform worn by former LSU first baseman Joe Bill Adcock in 1947. It’s a gray, heavy wool uniform with gray block lettering that reads, ‘Louisiana.’
The jersey itself is simple, but it took a long journey to its current spot.
Charlie Tramonte, LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s barber, had it hanging on his wall in a frame.
“I said to him, ‘Literally thousands of people will see it there and tens of people see it here on the wall of your barber shop,’ ” Mainieri said. “He decided to donate it to us, and I think it looks beautiful in there.”
The modern era houses objects from LSU’s recent success, including the weathered leather Nola brilliantly used at shortstop, and the scarred 34-inch, 31-ounce bat current outfielder Raph Rhymes used when he hit for an LSU record .431 average last season.
“That glove was used three straight years and half of a fourth year and through all three summers. It was never put down,” Nola said. “So it’s probably taken, I don’t know, 10,000 ground balls?”
Surrounding the center room are columns filled with baseballs. There are 832 baseballs on display in the columns, each reserved for any player who ever wore an LSU uniform to sign.
“The concept is that all players who were part of this program, whether you were an All-American or third-string bullpen catcher, then you’re in the hall of fame,” Mainieri said. “All the players from all the different eras and levels of success are intertwined as part of the family that calls itself LSU alumni.”
On either side of the center are the odes to the success of the program over the last three decades and the legacy its players carried on in the major leagues.
A large case houses signed major league uniforms worn by former LSU players, a favorite for Bertman.
“You can’t have a Hall of Fame without your super-productive people,” Bertman said.
On the other flank is an area dedicated to each of LSU’s six College World Series championship teams. Each team has its own display with the trophy and ring and the highlights from that season playing on a monitor above it.
For 25 years, Franques has been the record keeper for the LSU baseball team. He was responsible for selecting the photos and for writing the captions under the memorabilia.
While he had a large hand in making the Hall of Fame happen, Franques said he was astonished by the final product.
“I’d seen it on paper. I’d seen it on a computer screen,” Franques said. “But to see it three dimensionally — the first time I walked into the room, I was blown away. I think that’s the reaction for most people at the grandeur.”
When it opens to the public, the feet trampling through it won’t be the first. Mainieri said the first group he showed it to were the major baseball donors.
The next group was his current team.
“I wanted them to see what program they were representing and why we have 10,000 people in the stands,” Mainieri said. “When you choose to come to a place like LSU, you’re taking on a huge responsibility as the custodian of a great tradition.”