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Monday, May 12, 2008

Christmas at the Box

BATON ROUGE - It was Mother's Day. It was Goodbye Alex Box day. It was the last home game of the regular season. It was a Sunday to never forget. And oh yeah, I almost forgot, it was Senior Day on Saturday.

LSU's baseball weekend of May 9-11, 2008, should be treasured forever. All rolled into one, it was basically Christmas Day in May. There are 12 days to Christmas, and the Tigers won their 12th straight game on Sunday. They haven't done that since 2000 - back when this was the first family of college baseball and the Tigers won their last national championship.

LSU also swept its third straight Southeastern Conference series for the first time since 1991, which was the year the Tigers won their first of five national championships. The Tigers scored 40 runs on 40 hits in the three games. They hit eight home runs.

One of the tough things about Christmas is we compare every Christmas to that perfect Christmas or two we remember as kids. LSU even had that this weekend. It was like a 1990s Christmas of Gorilla Ball all over again. Balls were flying out of the Box as if the Tigers were still guzzling Creotin like Eggnog off those fat bats.

The family patriarch - Skip Bertman - was at the head of the table as usual, carving a big baseball and working the crowd in every room. His daughters were there. So was his grandchild. So were many of friends and about 100 former players, whom he always calls "the boys." Albert Belle and Smoke Laval were not there. They should have been for they were responsible for many trips to Omaha as well, but every Christmas has its family omissions to avoid those uncomfortable moments.

Skip and the matriarch - Sandy Bertman - drove the family golf cart out to left field to take down the numeral 1, signifying the last game in the Box. Unless, LSU gets a home NCAA Regional, which it probably will. That announcement will be made on Sunday, May 25. The NCAA owes the Box one more regional. The Box, more than any other stadium in the country except Rosenblatt, has made College Baseball. LSU and a guy named Warren Morris made Rosenblatt, too. Just look at the statue. So, fair is fair.

Bertman was all over the field before, during and after the game. I don't know why he didn't coach a few innings. No one ever called a game better, and that includes the managers in the Big Show.

Bertman actually did carve a slice out of a big baseball near the pitcher's mound in a unique postgame ceremony that sent Alex Box off like a Brandon Larson home run off Tiger Stadium.

Bertman had the fans yell, "Go Tigers" four times supposedly into the baseball, then closed it. The big ball was then taken away in a police car. (Was that Ryan Perrilloux in the back? Just kidding.) The ball will not be opened again until the new Alex Box is open down Nicholson next season.

This Bertman guy has still got it. He could still coach and he could still be athletic director. He's going out on top. And so did Alex Box.

Like many a great family Christmas, everything didn't go perfectly. And those unplanned accidents make it better and even more memorable. The old Alex Box sound system didn't work. Few could understand what Bertman and some of his players who spoke were saying. It was like your mother trying to take that perfect picture just as you open your Skittle Pool present, but she forgot to turn the camera on. Then she demands an immediate re-opening and fake smile.

Bertman told a story about his first visit to Alex Box.

"There were less than 200 people watching and the PA didn't work very well," he said, forgetting that the PA was still not working very well. Everyone started laughing.

This final ceremony dragged on like one of your aunt's bad toasts at Christmas, but nearly all of the crowd of 6,556 - the largest all season - stayed through it all. They didn't care. They were just happy to be there. And when it was nearly all over - Thank God - they yelled those "Go Tigers" for the baseball for the new Box as loud as they did for any NCAA Regional rally over the years.

"Alex Box is a special place to me," pitcher Doug Thompson said. "The times that I've had here and the times that all my teammates had here were the most special times of our lives."

Merry Christmas to Alex Box and to all, and to all a good night.


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