After a November practice last semester, two players stayed in Alex Box Stadium long past sunset.
The team had already finished weight and conditioning workouts for the day, but senior Mason Katz, a longtime leader of the LSU baseball team, and Alex Bregman, a true freshman, weren’t done. Bregman wanted to keep working on catching grounders. Illuminated only by the lights in the stands, Katz hit barely visible ground balls to Bregman in the dark.
Now during spring preseason practices, people in Alex Box Stadium notice when Bregman is hitting. Almost every ball is a pounding grounder to the outfield.
“This is how badly he wants to play and how hard he works to be the best he can,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “I’ve only been around this kid since August, but I have never been around a harder working, more dedicated, obsessed-with-the-sport-of-baseball kid than this guy.”
Mainieri acknowledged he’s “putting a lot on this kid’s shoulders.” Bregman will start at shortstop, filling the void left by Austin Nola, and will also step into the dominant batting lineup in the third spot, followed by hitting powerhouses Katz and senior Raph Rhymes.
Rhymes led the nation with a .431 batting average last season — a feat Rhymes said Bregman can beat.
“He’s going to do it,” Rhymes said. “Before he leaves LSU, he’s going to break [my record].”
At Albuquerque Academy, Bregman had a .678 batting average during his junior year, but sat out most of his senior season after breaking a finger. He played catcher his junior year and during the summer before coming to LSU, but Mainieri switched him to the shortstop role, and he’s been diving for ground balls since.
“I’m out here taking ground balls every day trying to get better defensively,” Bregman said. “I’ve been catching the past two years, so the first time I played shortstop was this fall. I love shortstop.”
But Bregman has a way to go before he reaches the level of his predecessor, Nola. While Mainieri rated Nola an 11 on a scale of one to 10, he rated Bregman a 7.5.
“[Bregman] is a really good shortstop and he is getting better. … He has a strong accurate arm, and he has good hands,” Mainieri said. “He just needs to play more.”
Bregman has less than three weeks to prepare before the Tigers’ home opener against Maryland on Feb. 15. Even as one of few starting freshman, he’s more excited than nervous. Rhymes said Bregman’s confidence is something even he can learn from.
“He’s coming in here and he’s acting like he’s played here before, which is great,” Rhymes said.