When the graduating seniors on the LSU baseball team got their diplomas Friday, they were joined by Blake Dean.
It was reflective of the unique position Dean holds on this year’s team as an undergraduate assistant coach. He’s just three years removed from one of the most productive careers in Tigers history, and he joined the coaching staff for this season as he completed the final 18 hours for his degree.
“I feel like he’s a hybrid between the players and the coaches,” outfielder Chris Sciambra said. “He can relate to both sides because he knows how the coaches are thinking and he was playing here just a few years ago.”
Dean was a teammate of current seniors Alex Edward, Mason Katz and Joey Bourgeois when they were freshmen in his senior season.
“We probably have a little different relationship than they have with some of the other coaches because they’re more professional based, and we’re more personal based just because I played with them and we know each other,” Dean said. “You can’t just turn the switch on and off like that once you’ve been around somebody and developed a friendship like that.”
Even the players who arrived after Dean left knew who he was.
“Blake Dean is one of the greatest players in LSU baseball history,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “All of our current players know who he is from his career here.
“All you have to do is watch the highlight videos that they show on the scoreboard, and it seems he’s in about every fifth clip with a big home run or other big hit.”
Dean is second on the LSU career list for hits (332), RBIs (260) and total bases (575). He’s third in doubles (63), fourth in home runs (56), fifth in runs scored (223) and seventh in walks (148).
“I heard a lot about him — he was a man,” said freshman shortstop Alex Bregman, who grew up in Albuquerque, N.M. “He’s won a national championship (in 2009), and he went to (the College World Series) twice. Once they said he was going to be a coach here, I was pumped.”
In addition to coaching first base, Dean has helped hitting coach Javi Sanchez work with the Tigers batters.
Sanchez credited Dean for his individual work with second baseman JaCoby Jones, who is batting .290 after hitting .253 last season and whose improved discipline has yielded 25 walks compared to 15 last season.
Jones said Dean the player was the first person he met at LSU on a recruiting visit, and the two “started clicking right away.”
“He has helped a lot with my mental approach to the game,” Jones said. “What to do in certain counts and situations and what my approach should be for each and every at-bat. Know what was successful for (the pitchers) the last time and be thinking about that in the dugout and when I’m on deck.”
Jones has often said he can be too hard on himself and get down when things aren’t going well. Dean never had that problem.
“All the hitters in our program want to know what made Blake, what separated him, made him so clutch,” Sanchez said. “What can I take from Blake and incorporate into my game?
“I think what really set Blake apart from all the other hitters in his era was his ability to maintain that even keel. It was the way he got in the box confident and never showed emotion. Whether he was 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, you really couldn’t tell the difference. I think that has rubbed off on some of our guys.”
Dean has provided something that Mainieri hasn’t had: a left-handed batting practice pitcher.
“It’s a huge difference,” Sciambra said. “And honestly, I want Blake throwing BP to me every single day no matter who we’re facing, because as a lefty facing left-handed pitchers, it really makes you lock in a little bit extra. And if I’m ever feeling a little funky or my swing is a little off, I can always count on hitting off of Blake to get me back in a groove. I can tell him I want to work on a lefty fastball away, and he’ll put it there every time.”
Dean was a standout pitcher and outfielder in high school but was limited to outfield, first base and designated hitter as a Tiger because of a shoulder injury.
“He’s pretty tough to hit,” outfielder Raph Rhymes said. “From what I heard, he was a great pitcher.”
Dean pitched for the U.S. Junior Olympic team when he was in high school.
“When I was growing up, I was always a pitcher,” Dean said. “Pitching was my forte.”
Though base running was never really Dean’s forte, Mainieri said he’s been helpful there as well.
“We’ve had several reads on pitches in the dirt where the runner has taken second base because of Blake’s reading it and telling them to go quickly,” Mainieri said. “That really amazes me, because when Blake ran the bases, he was like a turtle.
“When he went from one base to another, we’d yawn waiting for him to get there. He didn’t take a lot of pride in his base running, but he’s taken a lot of pride in being a base-running coach.”
This team is mostly businesslike, unlike what Dean and former teammates such as Jared Mitchell, Sean Ochinko and Buzzy Haydel were: “a bunch of loudmouths,” according to Mainieri.
“Blake Dean has never been accused of being a quiet person,” Mainieri said. “I always knew that team was loose and ready to play. This team is much more quiet in their personality, so it’s nice to have Blake around who’s yacking it up as though he’s still a player.
“I think it’s helping the other players loosen up a little bit and become a little bit more vocal.”