"Pressure is a privilege” is one of LSU freshman starting shortstop Alex Bregman’s favorite mantras.
The 18-year-old will start at one of the most important positions on the diamond Opening Day. Oh, and he’s going to bat third in the batting order Friday when LSU opens up its season against Maryland.
How crazy is it for coach Paul Mainieri to start a kid who’s never played an out in college? Almost as nuts as it was for him to move shortstop D.J. LeMahieu to second base so true freshman Austin Nola could take over the gap between second and third in the middle of the 2009 season.
No one questioned Mainieri after the move helped the Tigers win the College World Series. We’ll have to wait and see how smart Bregman makes Mainieri look as the season progresses.
But some LSU fans have unfair expectations for what they want Bregman to be out of the gate.
To his credit, he deserves most of the preseason praise he’s received thus far. Quoting the great Boobie Miles, “Hype is something that’s not for real. I’m all real.”
Bregman is definitely for real.
Despite missing his senior season at Albuquerque Academy, Bregman hit an out-of-this-world .678 to go along with 19 home runs as a junior. He was also the MVP of the gold medalist 18U U.S National Team at the 2011 International Baseball Federation World Championships.
LSU is lucky an injury derailed Bregman’s senior campaign. If not, he would have probably been a first round pick in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft instead of going in the 29th round. He would be donning a minor league jersey this spring instead of the purple and gold.
If the pressure from fans wasn’t enough, Bregman’s competitive drive is already being compared to one of the best players in LSU history by his coach.
“Tiger fans are going to love this kid and embrace him,” Mainieri said Jan. 25. “He plays with the same passion as a Mikie Mahtook as a shortstop.”
Consider yourself privileged, Alex. If you feel the pressure on your shoulders now, you won’t want to experience it if you don’t live up to the ridiculously high standards the LSU fan base has set for you.
Don’t act like Bregman is Jesus walking through the door for LSU baseball. He’s still true freshman who hasn’t faced college pitching and will have to adjust to the new bats at the collegiate level.
With Austin Nola, one of the consistent players in LSU history, now out of the picture, there’s an immense amount of strain put on Bregman at shortstop and one of the most important spots in the lineup.
Mainieri didn’t want senior Raph Rhymes to bat third, despite his .431 batting average last season, nor did he give the opportunity to senior first baseman Mason Katz, who led the Tigers with 13 home runs last season. Mainieri trusts Bregman.
This is where Mainieri and LSU football coach Les Miles show similarities, making them so great at their craft.
Any given Saturday, you can see Miles trot out true freshman to cover kicks or play prominent roles on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. Mainieri and Miles have one common goal: putting the players on the field who give their teams the best chance of winning.
Nola gave Mainieri the best chance to win during the middle of the season in 2009. Now he believes Bregman will allow his team to reap the most benefits by starting him from day one.
Is he going to hit 20 home runs and bat .350? No. So don’t call him a bust if he isn’t an All-SEC shortstop as a freshman.
Bregman’s success will be key if the Tigers plan to reach Omaha in 2013. But don’t throw the kid under the bus if he doesn’t put up the gigantic numbers some expect of him right away.