Gil LeBreton

LSU just another barrier that TCU’s baseball team must hurdle

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, sharing a laugh with LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro, is familiar with the Tigers, having been an assistant at Tulane for eight seasons.
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, sharing a laugh with LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro, is familiar with the Tigers, having been an assistant at Tulane for eight seasons. AP

There were tears in the eyes of Carl Maddox that May night in 1975.

The late LSU athletic director had been caught in a traffic jam.

A traffic jam for an LSU baseball game.

And when Maddox, notoriously frugal, gazed around old Alex Box Stadium and saw the overflow crowd, an LSU first, he was overcome with budgetary emotion.

If memory serves, we packed about 2,500 in that night. I was a student assistant in the LSU Sports Information Office, and it was my job to galvanize media coverage for the big game, the opener of a best-of-three series with Georgia for the SEC championship.

Maddox saw dollar signs that night. The rest of us in the press box thought we were seeing the rebirth of LSU baseball.

I was wrong by about nine years.

The true golden era of Tigers baseball began when Skip Bertman arrived in 1984. In the 18 seasons that followed, Bertman guided LSU to 11 College World Series appearances, five national championships and nine 50-win seasons.

Now housed in new Alex Box Stadium, with its playing field named for the retired Bertman, the Tigers annually draw more than 10,000 per game to lead college baseball in attendance.

Why mention all this?

Because this is the mountain that TCU has to climb Sunday. The Horned Frogs have eyed this end of the rainbow for 12 months.

There may as well be a pedigree program such as LSU’s standing in the way.

It’s an opponent that TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle knows all too well from his eight years as an assistant at Tulane.

“That was so long ago,” Schlossnagle told the College World Series media Friday. “It doesn’t really matter for me. It’s all about what the players are able to handle.

“It’s just a great opportunity for our program to play one of the more elite programs, if not the most elite program, in the history of college baseball, especially the last 20 years.”

Schlossnagle hasn’t run from a challenge all season. The Frogs’ 49-13 résumé includes a three-game series at Arizona State and victories over UCLA and Vanderbilt in Los Angeles.

He knew his team would be deep in seniors and quality pitching.

“Going back to Omaha was something we talked about every day of the season,” TCU shortstop Keaton Jones said.

For Schlossnagle, Sunday’s opener against LSU is another hurdle. But his 12 seasons at TCU have been filled with conquered hurdles — among them, beating Texas in Austin in 2010 to advance to the College World Series for the first time, hosting a regional and super regional for the first time, and returning to Omaha in back-to-back years.

Why not tackle a giant like LSU this time?

Schlossnagle will cringe humbly at the comparison, but he has become TCU’s Skip Bertman. He has taken the program to another level, a level beyond anyone’s imagination two decades ago.

TCU exes are scattered throughout the major leagues. Two more of Schlossnagle’s pitchers were drafted last week in the second round.

Once a campus afterthought, just as the Tigers were in Baton Rouge 40 years ago, TCU has become a national top 10 fixture in home attendance.

Another mountain will stand in front of Schlossnagle’s team Sunday afternoon.

Don’t think for a minute that this senior-laden team will be awed by that.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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