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The 2016 Baton Rouge Regional, As Told By The Tarp Crew

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Blame it on the rain.

Adam Henderson

Just before 12:30 PM on Friday afternoon, I walked into Alex Box Stadium and onto Skip Bertman Field. If you haven't pieced it together yet, when I'm not writing for And The Valley Shook I'm working on the LSU Tarp Crew and this past weekend I did the latter much more than the former.

Well, "weekend" is such a strong term.

Regionals, just as an idea, are a logistical nightmare. Playing six to seven games in three days at the same ballpark is a task that requires all hands on deck for field turnarounds between games. It calls for late nights and early mornings, carrying hundreds of pounds of turface, sweat stains and in my case, paint stains. And all of that is assuming perfect weather for the weekend. Louisiana during the summer is notorious for not having perfect weather.

Before the regional began, I knew what I was getting into. This was my third year on the Tarp Crew and my third regional. I knew the weather would be bad and we would have to play around it. On Thursday night I dropped a tweet that set the bar for the over/under on the amount of hours I spend at Alex Box this weekend at 36. I had no clue that what waited for me inside Alex Box was a five day job that had me spend 51 hours at the stadium and saw 18 tarp pulls (on and off).

Yup, 51 hours. If you took the over, congrats!

So when Paul Mainieri made the move to play game one of the series at 2 PM on Friday, he was making a calculated move with the weather in mind instead of attendance. To his credit, that was the right move as the game would be pushed back by rain until 8:35 that night. This would end up being a recurring theme throughout the weekend.

When you're stuck in a rain delay before the game even begins, you're in a hole because there's an obscene amount of time to fill (as there is with any rain delay) but with knowledge that as soon as the tarp is pulled, you're working against the clock as far as field prep goes because you have your traditional pre-game field prep as well as tending to the effects rain has on the infield. As always, lines needed to be painted, the infield needed to be dragged, and because presentation is important, the stencil needed to be placed on the mound. But a rain delay calls for spreading turface on the infield where necessary, cleaning up the tarp dump (dirt dropped in the outfield by the tarp), and just generally doing anything possible to rid the field of any excess water. When you have to do both, you need to be in full on bee mode, zipping around from duty to duty.

Which hey, did you know bees are dying globally at an alarming rate? Thankfully the Tarp Crew ain't, as Tarp Crew elder statesman Zach Rau picked up some pizza(s) for us. That's another thing, we don't get paid for any of this. All we get is a meal ticket voucher, and after about a month the only thing from the Alex Box stadium concession stands that is near appetizing is the chicken tender basket, and that's with you hoping that the fries are serviceable that day and the condiments dispensers are full enough to mask the blandness of the chicken. Also, you really don't want to be putting fried ballpark chicken into your bodies three days in a row.

By the way, the NCAA blue ball logo you saw on the back of the mound was incredibly complex. Throughout the season I've been in charge of the LSU logos, starting with a simple stencil drop to a slightly harder LSU with an outline. Since this is a "neutral site event", we were told we could not put down an LSU logo and instead had to settle for the NCAA blue ball. In order to complete the NCAA blue ball, I had to drop a stencil with semicircles all the way around it, forming a circle. Then I had to freehand the rest of the circle. If you're wondering how hard it is to freehand a circle using spray paint on dirt, the answer is "very." After that, I placed the stencil back down and had to spray in the NCAA white, only to have to put down a second NCAA stencil to fill in the blue in the inside of the "A." All things consider and given how lost I was when this was explained to me, I think it turned out pretty well:

Okay, I'm done bragging.

Game one being pushed back created a domino effect that would topple the best laid plans of LSU and the NCAA. Due to the late start, Southeastern and Rice would begin at 9:04 AM Saturday. Due to the LSU game starting so late, I left the ballpark at 12:45 AM, just over seven hours before call time for game two of the regional. At 11:02 AM, with Rice up 4-1 over Southeastern, the order to tarp the field was put out. The was the mother of all rain delays as the rain got so bad and last for so long that our boss, Mark Lee, told us to find a cozy spot and grab a nap before dismissing us for a spell. We returned to the box at 5:00 PM to remove the tarp at the request of the NCAA rep, only to put it right back on when the bad sky water made it's return to Alex Bos Stadium Skip Bertman Field. The game was called for the day in the seventh inning, and the decision was reached to play three different games in one day on Sunday starting with the resumption of Southeastern and Rice in the seventh inning at 11:00 AM.

That game ended without a hitch, and Southeastern eliminated Utah Valley without any dramatics from the sky. But the third game between Rice and LSU wouldn't be so lucky. With LSU up 4-2 in the sixth, we went over the wall and pulled the tarp back out again. The delay and clean up took an hour before play resumed where LSU held Rice in check behind Alex Lange and Hunter Newman.

Call time the next day was 12:30 PM for what we hoped was the last day of the regional. During Rice's blowout of Southeastern after seven innings the sky bottomed out and once more, we had to pull the tarp away from it's home along the right field wall. But during the pull, our (understaffed) crew ran out of gas and that coupled with the ton of water dropped on the tarp gave us trouble with getting the field covered. Then in an act of great sportsmanship Southeastern and head coach Matt Riser, who trailed Rice 13-0 at the time, came out and helped us finish pulling the tarp. They could have stewed in their dugout and scoffed as the exhausted grounds crew covered the field, prolonging their season from ending, but they decided to sprint out and help us out. If I can opine for a bit, there is no chance in hell any of other big programs in the state (ULL, Tulane) would come out and help us in such a spot, and their coach sure as hell wouldn't. I say that because we have had experience in the matter with one certain team in the past. I gained a hell of a lot of respect for Southeastern in addition to what I already had for them. I know if I was a player in their spot I would have likely not gone out there and feel justified in doing so.

Game one of the regional finals went off without a hitch for us, unfortunately that wasn't true of LSU. After going down early, we were handed a directive from our boss to drop our drags during the fifth inning drags and fire up the crowd since we weren't allowed to dance per the NCAA. So if you're wondering what us jackasses were doing, we were improvising, just roll with it. Unfortunately it didn't work, and Rice forced a game seven by a decisive 10-6 margin.

Because of NCAA rules that state no team may play more than three games in one day, the regional final was pushed to 4:00 PM. Because heaven forbid the NCAA actually generate too much interest in college baseball before Omaha. Luckily, there was finally a day void of bad weather to play baseball. After a sluggish start, LSU was once again able to rally late and kept Rice at bay with a superman effort from Jared Poche'. Did I say "sluggish?" I meant "abysmal." That game held some of the worst at bats LSU had all year. But the Rally Possum woke up early and made the rare daytime appearance, and the Tigers were able to claw back with the help of Greg Deichmann absolutely murderfacing a ball. I was sitting about thirty feet from home when that happened and as I saw Deichmann pull back for the swing, I immediately drew an "oh shit" from my lips because I knew one of two things was about to happen: 1) he was about to corkscrew himself about half a foot into the batter's box or 2) the cover was about to come off of the ball. Deichmann shipped the ball to the deepest part of the park and it was still a no-doubter.

The Baton Rouge Regional told us what we already knew about LSU: the talent is there, but the consistency isn't. Despite the lack of consistency, this team will fight like hell and scrap to the end. And that's where the incredible late inning run comes from-if you keep fighting long enough, you will wear down your opponent and they will crumble. Experienced guys like Kramer Robertson and Jake Fraley do not let up at any point in the ball game and the young bloods like Antoine Duplantis are taking after their lead and learning to do the same. And not to mention Jared Poche stepping in and suppressing Rice by going six innings of one hit baseball, giving LSU a chance to build a rally. Say what you want about Poche's inconsistency on the mound, what he did Tuesday will end up ingraining him in the storied tapestry of LSU baseball lore.

And to his credit, Paul Mainieri has done his part to ensure that the team is ready for the pressure. Every season there are players that depart from the program because as young players they cannot handle the pressure Mainieri exerts on them. This is another calculated move by the LSU skipper. From day one Paul expects nothing but the best from his players and he never lets up from that day so when the postseason comes rolling around (which it nearly almost always does for LSU), the pressure is nothing new for them. That's how freshman like Antoine Duplantis become key contributors in the postseason and players like Chris Reid become the most disciplined player at the plate. As cliche as it is, by all accounts they really aren't freshman anymore. I'll expand more on this at a later date, but this is absolutely the best coaching job Mainieri has done during his tenure in Baton Rouge.

All told, I spent 83,409 steps doing tarp crew related activities over that five day period and honestly, I am more than okay with having to wait another year to do it again. I love the pressure that surrounds the postseason play and I like how even the grounds crew is subject to the pressure a little bit, but that past week has sucked everything out of me. However, while I'm gonna be laying low for the rest of the week I can't wait to be back for the best of three set with Coastal Carolina this weekend and do it all over again.