OMAHA, Neb. — As reporters and cameramen crawled all over the LSU baseball team’s practice field Monday, eager to be the first to tweet who the Tigers’ starting pitcher will be Tuesday, this intrepid reporter was pursuing more important information.
The big question of the day was really this: Where is Mouton the Rally Monkey, and is anyone worried that he might break into the Tigers’ lucky can of corn?
LSU’s season is now officially on the brink after Sunday’s 2-1 loss to UCLA. The Tigers must beat North Carolina on Tuesday to stay alive in the College World Series, then win three more games to reach the championship series, then win two more games to capture the national championship.
Tall order. Seeing Raph Rhymes and Chris Cotton show up at the ballpark Tuesday with shaved heads seems more likely.
So while starting pitchers (it will be Cody Glenn for LSU, by the way) and scouting reports have their place, making sure all your lucky charms are operating at Full Mojo is just as critical. Since Monday was not a game day, that was the first order of business for Tigers and Tigers fans alike.
At the site of the CWS’ former home, Rosenblatt Stadium, the city built a shrine to the old ballpark. There’s a marker for home plate and a mini version of the grandstand’s iconic blue roof. There are two rows of its old red, yellow and blue chairback seats. White lines run through what is now an expanded parking lot for the Henry Doorly Zoo to the foul poles that stand as silent sentinels to the glory that was Rome, um, Omaha.
Some LSU fans went there Monday, under cover of broad daylight, and burned their tickets from the UCLA game as an offering to the baseball ghosts that still inhabit the Rosenblatt grounds.
No joke. There was a partially charred ticket near the base of the right-field foul pole, mere feet away from where Warren Morris’ parked his epic home run over the fence in 1996.
Monday, there was a Pontiac parked there. Surely the ghosts of Rosenblatt didn’t vacate those hallowed grounds in that, so good chance they were moved by this pagan baseball ritual. Told of the ticket burning, Rhymes was incredulous yet somehow understood.
This brings us to Mouton and the corn.
The Tigers found Mouton, a stuffed monkey with purple fur, last season at a gas station in Auburn, Ala., after LSU lost two games there. LSU won 15 of its next 16, so naturally Mouton joined the Tigers’ traveling show. They’d sooner start a game without Paul Mainieri than Mouton the Rally Monkey. Mouton even gets his own seat on team flights. (Mainieri, too, probably.)
Mouton sits in the dugout not far from their lucky can of corn, given to the team earlier this season by “Duck Dynasty” star Jase Robertson, who was at Sunday’s game. Shortly after Robertson was interviewed on the ballpark’s video screens, Mason Katz hit his solo home run, more evidence of karma doing its thing.
In the end, Mouton, the corn and Jase’s legendary beard had an off night as the Tigers committed two errors and tumbled into the losers bracket. So Tuesday, the Tigers are prepared to work for their luck.
“We might shake the corn a little bit more, go have some words with Mouton,” Rhymes said. “He really wasn’t into it (Sunday) night.
“I’m telling you it works.”
In case you’re wondering, Mouton was resting in the hotel room of Kevin Berry (his keeper) on Monday while the team practiced, for all we know ordering room service and Swedish massage. The can of corn was resting in a cool, dry place in Joey Bourgeois’ room, for all we know under a pile of dirty clothes.
Mainieri said he doesn’t have words with Mouton or shake the corn, but he has his own talismans. Before Tuesday’s contest, he will put on his left shoe first, slip a lucky fava bean into his pocket (every member of the Mainieri family has one, he said) and fill out his lineup card as he does each game with a new purple Sharpie.
“I’m not superstitious,” he said. (Yeah, sure.) “But why take a chance?”
There’s only one problem with the ticket offering, though: CWS tickets are printed in blue and white.
If the Tigers want to win the CWS, they may have to end up sacrificing Mouton the Rally Monkey.