Rabalais: Bregman honors late grandfather against Northwestern State

Stan Bregman loved baseball.

During his career as a high-powered Washington, D.C., attorney, in which he was a confidant of people like late vice-president Hubert Humphrey (an LSU grad) and vice-president Walter Mondale, he helped a new owner negotiate the purchase of the Washington Senators and helped the team sign Hall of Famer Ted Williams as the club’s general manager.

The love of the game Bregman passed down to his sons, Sam and Ben, both of whom played college ball at New Mexico.

Sam’s son, Alex, is LSU’s shortstop.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

That love apparently doesn’t skip generations in the Bregman family. The aptly named Alex is always at Alex Box Stadium, hitting, fielding, taking extra cuts or grounders. Even through all of Baton Rouge’s triple play-rare trifecta of ice storms this year, Bregman missed one day of hitting. That was when he had a staph infection and his doctor forbid him from going to the ballpark.

“I could count on one hand the number of kids I’ve coached who love the game as much and work as hard as he does,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.

Tuesday night against Northwestern State, in a season that has probably been as frustrating as any in Alex Bregman’s 20 years, he had an amazing night. Shockingly so. All the Tigers did, but no hitter eclipsed Bregman, who launched two homers (one a grand slam, the other a three-run shot) and collected eight RBIs.

LSU won 27-0 (there was a combined five-man no-hitter as well) and would have easily knocked off the hapless Demons without Bregman. But he was there, batting in the No. 2 slot, even though Stan Bregman died in Santa Monica, California, last Thursday.

The funeral was Wednesday in California. Mainieri said he told Bregman to go Tuesday, to skip the game. Be with his family. Pay your respects as most people would expect anyone to do.

Alex wouldn’t budge. He stayed and played Tuesday night, “Stan” written on the right side of his cap and “Stan the Man” scribbled under the bill, because he knew Stan Bregman wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“He said his grandfather would have been so mad at him,” Mainieri said.

“They were very close. He hardly missed any of Alex’s games (as a kid) and they talked after every game (at LSU).”

LSU arranged a flight for Bregman that left Baton Rouge at 5:25 a.m. Wednesday morning (a common sense but only recent NCAA rule change allows schools to pay for travel for student-athletes in such circumstances). He had to make a connection in Houston but made it to Los Angeles in time for the funeral, which was to start at 11:30 a.m. Pacific time.

A few hours with his family and Alex was to be back at LAX for a redeye flight to Atlanta, where he was scheduled to arrive Thursday morning. If all went according to plan, Bregman would hook up there with pitching coach Alan Dunn, who left Baton Rouge on Wednesday to visit pitching signee Doug Norman near Charlotte, North Carolina. The two were to drive to Auburn where LSU opens an oh-so-crucial three-game series Thursday night to close out the regular season.

Mainieri said he didn’t know if Alex Bregman’s grandfather had a lingering illness that may have been weighing on the shorstop’s mind this season. If it did, it could be a reason why he was batting just .280 going into the Northwestern State game before his hitting onslaught raised his season average to .293.

Or maybe it’s just baseball, the most humbling of sports, in which failure stalks even the best hitters, people like Ted Williams and Alex Bregman, seven times out of 10.

But an optimist’s heart beats under Mainieri’s No. 1 jersey. And that part of him is hopeful, even confident, that Tuesday’s eruption can be the switch that turns on the hitting gene in Bregman, the one that helped him hit .369 as a freshman and a scarcely believable .678 as a high school junior.

“I’ve said all along if he gets his bat going before the end of the year he can carry this team through the postseason,” said Mainieri, who has loyally kept Bregman high in the lineup despite his frequent hitting struggles.

Assuming Alex gets to Auburn in time for Thursday’s game, it will be without hair (he shaved his head to get rid of a Mohawk that Mainieri mocked), without a Twitter account he shut down Monday and with his grandfather’s name written on his hat.

If Bregman keeps hitting anything remotely like what he did Tuesday, now you’ll know why.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter @RabalaisAdv.