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Hobbs Column: Omaha, LSU’s home away from home

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:55 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

One of the well-known perks of going to Omaha as an LSU Tiger is that you have a ready-made fan base already in place.

A lot of it actually is from back home, familiar faces from Alex Box Stadium who evacuate the state as if a land rush was on as soon as the Tigers punch their College World Series ticket.

Many have come to enjoy the experience so much that they go every year whether the LSU team follows them or not.

They have a certain reputation.

Just the other day Louisville coach Dan McDonnell was fretting that his own rabid fan base would be unable to get any tickets because LSU fans had a one-day head start in scarfing them all up.

That qualifies him as a newbie. Not to worry, coach, no matter how many LSU fans show up — amazing but true — somehow the ticket situation seems to magically work itself out and there’s enough to go around.

But that’s only part of the LSU support.

There’s also the famed Cornfield Alumni.

Omaha itself was smitten with the LSU years ago, and it’s been a long-running love affair. Maybe they appreciate the exotic tailgate dishes — a daring respite from their usual steak and pasta — and that the Tiger fans usually bring their own beer, and often share.

The ridiculously friendly Omaha people don’t dislike anybody — well, maybe Florida State, a little bit, due some football bowl run-ins with the Cornhuskers — but for some reason they’ve always been head-over-heels gaga about the Tigers.

I have no idea why, but they are. Skip Bertman was quite an ambassador in the beginning, but that can’t explain it all.

It’s not like the familiar SEC outposts get excited when they hear LSU fans are coming to town. Quite the, uh, contrary, as a matter of fact. They lock up the kiddies and womenfolk and often hide the good china and silverware.

But Omaha welcomes LSU with excited and very open arms, sometimes slobbering on them. Opposing teams are often taken aback, wondering what they did to offend these good people when they’re playing the Tigers.

So surely on Saturday night, they performed the time-honored ritual at Barrett’s Barleycorn Pub and Grill on Leavenworth Street, by briskly raising the LSU flag over their cozy watering hole for another fortnight of serving as unofficial world headquarters.

That’s all fine and good.

LSU won’t lack for love.

But pardon these current Tigers, the players, if they’re a little slow to catch on to first names.

LSU may be synonymous with Omaha, but for all this crop of players know about it, it might as well be Oamaru, which I believe is in New Zealand.

LSU head coach Paul Mainieri is no stranger, of course, and first base coach Blake Dean was a star on the 2009 team that won the national championship on the Tigers’ last trip to Omaha.

But as for players … nada.

Not a single one of them has ever played in the College World Series.

Pitching ace Aaron Nola knows something about it. He was a sophomore in high school and tagged along on LSU’s last trip with his big brother Austin, who was then a freshman starting shortstop for the Tigers’ most recent national champions.

Omaha is famous for turning first-time participants into quivering hunks of stage fright.

The same Stony Brook team that performed so gracefully and effortlessly at Alex Box while denying LSU passage last season, showed up in Omaha a week later looking like a disjointed T-ball team.

Maybe LSU’s history and tradition counts for something, but it’s not an experience any of these guys have personally crossed paths with.

But if any team should be able to avoid the Omaha first-time jitters, it would be LSU.

It’s the ultimate in college baseball, a unique atmosphere with a special feeling unmatched by any other college sport’s championship. It’s a Broadway opening for a sport that, for the most part in most precincts, is performed before family and friends and stray pets.

So it won’t be the shock to the Tigers’ system that it is to most teams that arrive after four months of relative anonymity.

The Tigers do this kind of thing all the time, even in years when Omaha eludes them.

LSU’s average home baseball attendance was higher than eight of the 14 SEC schools averaged — for their basketball games.

That’s great for a home team. But it also brings the kind of pressure — outsiders really, really caring — that most college baseball teams can’t imagine.

Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway noticed over the weekend while marveling somewhat jealously at the atmosphere of The Box.

“People can sit around and say, ‘Wow, what a great job, I wish I had that job,’” he said. “There’s nothing easy about that (LSU) job. You have to respect what (Mainieri) does, following in the footsteps of the guy (Bertman) of the guy who built this place.

“I watched him (Mainieri) across the field over in the other dugout, you can see there’s a lot of pressure on him.”

The players, too.

“Everything that we’re going to face in Omaha, we face on a daily basis here at LSU,” Mainieri said. “It’s an advantage that we have. It shouldn’t be that big of a difference in Omaha. People make a big deal out of it and say you guys haven’t been here for four years, well, I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a factor.”

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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