Scooter Hobbs (American Press)

When the Air Force Academy is having trouble getting to its airport, you know you've got real-world obstacles.

But welcome to College Baseball 2021.

Maybe it will start this weekend.

A lot of southern-fried schools may get sued for false advertising in the process, but they're hopeful for a little Play Ball!

Those palm trees, gentle warm breezes and beach mai tais the weather-challenged northern schools were promised in exchange for a welcome respite south have turned into black ice and snow angels in the outfield.

On Thursday, LSU head coach Paul Mainieri had just gotten off the phone with his buddies at Notre Dame, who were invited to Baton Rouge as part the season-opening weekend and weren't deterred by the unseasonable polar forecast.

The Irish are used to frigid weather. Wallow in it. Sometimes even manage to get a February practice in around it.

They might pack a windbreaker, might not.

But forget the weather. The Notre Dame baseball team had some COVID-19 issues — not clear whether it was positive tests or the pesky contact tracing that did in the Irish — and had to send regrets. Notre Dame wasn't going anywhere this weekend.

Fortunately it was a four-team round-robin affair, along with Air Force and Louisiana Tech.

Well, three, after Notre Dame had to balk.

So then Air Force called.

Its team was doing some last-minute COVID testing but was hopeful for an all-clear.

Now the Falcons had find a way to dig through the snow to get to the airfield. Even for Air Force, apparently it's not as simple as scrambling as a few F-16s.

"We're waiting to hear back," Mainieri reported. "I'm on pins and needles."

At least Louisiana Tech was fairly nearby, not dependent on Ruston International Airport to get out of town anyway.

But the Bulldogs were the reason the season-opening weekend celebration — this annual Baton Rouge rite of spring known as Alex Box Stadium at 25-percent pandemic capacity with no tailgating — was pushed back a day in the first place. Saturday-Monday instead of Friday-Sunday.

Tech Athletic Director Eric Wood, his campus surrounded by snow, ice and gobs of wind chill, had decreed that none of his teams were traveling anywhere on Thursday for anything.

Not with Louisiana-licensed drivers on ice, at least.

The travel ban will be lifted today and Mainieri said he can't think of a good reason Tech won't make it to Baton Rouge. Hence, the one-day pushback.

Something could still always pop up. This is 2021, after all, which thus far is 2020 with a frosty chaser. And who, exactly, Tech will get to play is still up in the air.

"It's a moving target," Mainieri said.

For instance, cross-town Southern had inquired about getting in on the weekend fun. The Jags were scheduled to go to Oklahoma this weekend before that got canceled.

But Southern got a quicker offer to go play UNO — because the Privateers' original opening opponent, Alcorn State, couldn't make it to New Orleans.

So as of now, assuming our Air Force can get its Academy safely to Baton Rouge — and barring unforeseen developments (likely, the way things are going) — LSU will open the season with games against Air Force on Saturday and Sunday and play Louisiana Tech on Monday.

Tech would also get a game against Air Force on Sunday.

Now if the Air Force is grounded, LSU and Tech will play a three-game series starting Saturday.

That's all subject to change.

‘There's been a lot of moving parts to this thing, said Mainieri, who may or may not have ordered snow plows for the seventh-inning stretches. "It's been a chaotic week personally.

"But everybody has got to be ready for sudden change. That's the world we're in right now."

He better get used to it.

Louisiana will eventually thaw out.

But with contact tracing and positive testing still a looming factor, schedule changes on the fly are likely to be the norm.

There figures to be a lot of weeks like this where the biggest challenge seems to be just to get in uniform and on the field.

Mainieri has all of the Louisiana schools on speed dial.

But he's always been a born tinkerer, always adjusting this and that. Now he may spend the season fiddling with his schedule as much as his lineup and weekend rotation.

The new baseball mantra: Take two and call Nicholls State.

l

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.com

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