It’s a battle in the Alex Box Stadium outfield.
The competitors: sophomore Chris Sciambra, junior transfer Sean McMullen and freshmen Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson. The prize: the starting center and right field spots.
All four are left-handed, something LSU coach Paul Mainieri said there has been a shortage of in recent years. He said two of the four will play center and right field, with one possibly being named a designated hitter.
The only returner to the team, Sciambra is coming off a yearlong hiatus from play caused by a neck injury last season, while McMullen is coming to LSU this year from Delgado Community College. Stevenson is from St. Thomas More High School in Lafayette, and Laird is from Ouachita Christian School in Monroe.
“I can hardly hold in my enthusiasm about Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson,” Mainieri said. “Both of them can flat out fly, they are excellent athletes, they are excellent outfielders, they are tough to strike out, and they can handle the bat and their speed is going to be a tremendous asset for us.”
Senior Raph Rhymes will start in left field, but the remaining positions have been up in the air for weeks. Sciambra said the decision to not name starters yet has kept the players on their toes.
“No one’s comfortable,” Sciambra said. “Even when you think one guy gets an advantage, you know you can never let up because the job’s still open.”
Sciambra said he would ideally like to play center field, a position that requires strong leadership skills.
“With it being my second year and potentially second year starting that I can help out the other guys in the corner and take charge in the outfield,” Sciambra said. “I think that’s where I’m best suited, but if they tell me I need to play right, then I’ll be happy to go over there too.”
McMullen said he has primarily been stationed in right field during practice this season. Sciambra practiced there during the fall, but moved to center in the spring. McMullen said Stevenson has practiced mostly in center field and Laird has practiced in all three spots.
“You gotta really come out here on your A-game,” McMullen said. “You can’t [take] any days off. A lot of competition means there’s a lot of talent, which is good.”
Rhymes, the self-dubbed “grandpa” of the team, is a 23-year-old fifth-year student and a veteran of the game. He said while outfielders ask him for advice, the new guys still teach him things.
“We’ve got Laird, Stevenson and McMullen who are all new, but when they came out here they didn’t act like new players,” Rhymes said. “It’s been fun to compete with them because they’re really good outfielders.”
Competition aside, the players all say their number one goal is to help the team.
“We’re just playing the game that we love and playing as hard as we can.” Sciambra said. “We know that we’re all competing for a starting job out there, but at the same time we’re still helping each other out.”