Published 12:00 am Monday, February 16, 1998

L’Observateur / February 16, 1998

Ah, February.

Time for Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras and college baseball.

First pitches are being thrown on campuses around the warmer climates of the country. Here in Louisiana, Southeastern and Southern opened theirseasons last Friday in the Pelican State tournament held at Zephyr Field.

UNO has started its season, Tulane opened last night, as did LSU against Southwestern Louisiana as the Tigers try to defend their 1997 College World Series championship.

Questions abound as the season starts. Can UNO reclaim the glory of theearly 1980s when it became the first Louisiana team to advance to the Division I World Series? (Nicholls State was the first to compete in the College World Series in the early 1970s.) Can Tulane return to theregionals after a year hiatus. Will LSU make it back-to-back-to-backchampionships? Many of those questions will not be answered until late May and early June.

The River Parishes will also see a number of its athletes take the field this year from Weylin Guidry at LSU to Preston Hayes at SLU.

I am a baseball fan at all levels, from little league to the big leagues, but I am becoming more and more a fan of the collegiate sport. Maybe itsbecause of all the weekday nights and weekend days I spent at Alex Box Stadium. Or maybe its because collegiate players are playing for the mostpart for something other than money.

I have some fond memories of college baseball. I remember going to theBusch Challenge (now known as the Winn-Dixie Showdown) in the Superdome with my mom and dad. I recall in one of the first years of thetournament watching UNO play in the first game on Saturday and because the Mardi Gras parades were rained out, going back with my dad to catch the LSU and Tulane games later that night.

There was the LSU-Texas A & M game that I covered for “The Daily Reveille” on a Sunday three years ago that seemed like it would never end.

I remember UNO coming back from a large deficit two years ago against Mississippi State. And I can recall with a cringe telling my dad last yearthat the LSU shortstop had no power and then watching Brandon Larson launch three home runs that game and over 40 for the season. No suchpredictions this year.

My sophomore year at LSU, the Tigers swept Mississippi State on the final weekend of the season, the first victory “dogpile” I saw in person. Thefollowing year, there was LSU’s game against Michigan two days after the “storm of the century” when the scoreboard flashed “Game time temperature: You don’t want to know.” Actually, the only thing I rememberabout the rest of the game was cold.

That year, 1993, certainly had its share of memories. There was the LSU-Tulane game when both teams turned back the clock and wore uniforms of the late 1890s. And then there was the infamous Auburn-Mississippi Stategame in the SEC tournament held at “The Box” that year.

I was invited to join the band fraternity that series to help them clean up the ballpark between games. Getting into the games free was a hugeincentive. We were in the bleachers for the Auburn game and for nineinnings all we heard from the Auburn cheerleaders seated in front of us was “Here we go, Auburn, here we go.” So what happens? In the bottom of the ninth, State’s Ricky Joe Redd hits a drive over the center field wall to send Auburn home and there we were in unison singing “There it goes, Auburn, there it goes.” The public addresssystem added a fitting final note, playing “Sweet Home Alabama, I’m Coming Home to You” as the Auburn players were getting on the bus.

There have been poignant moments like Southern Cal’s Jacque Jones giving a young Tiger fan his batting glove after the Trojans lost to LSU in the 1994 regionals. And of course, I can remember screaming myself hoarse asWarren Morris’ ball sailed over the right field fence to win the World Series in 1996.

More memories await college baseball fans this year and it is those memories are what make college baseball special.

Play ball.

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