Sixteen years ago, on the morning of Sunday, June 3, the elevator opened on the second floor at Zephyr Field.
A reporter was on the way to the press box, and a wealthy LSU booster was headed to his suite, both on the third floor.
“Do we have a chance, today?” the booster asked.
The reporter didn’t have to say a thing. His blank stare did the talking. Several hours later,
Tulane starting pitcher Beau Richardson threw eight innings of five-hit baseball as Tulane beat LSU, 7-1.
Tulane advanced to the College World Series for the first time. Skip Bertman’s career as LSU baseball coach, one that included five CWS titles in the space of 10 seasons, was over.
That Game 3 of the Super Regional at the Shrine on Airline was watched by 11,870 in the park, at that time the second-largest NCAA regional crowd in history, and the largest crowd to see an outdoor baseball game in the state of Louisiana.
Rick Jones, the winning coach in Game 3 of the best-of-three series, remembers not sleeping the night before. He tossed and turned in his hotel room downtown at the Fairmont. He said the following to himself, over and over: “Tomorrow, we either change forever or we go back to being who we are.”
The enormity of the moment and the series is still with Jones 16 years later.
“There were a couple thousand people outside in the parking lot at the stadium watching the game on TV,” said Jones. “The crowd was so thick before the game that the state police had to lead the team buses through the mass of people.”
LSU won the first game, 4-3, in 13 innings on Friday night. LSU starter Lane Mestepey threw 10 innings. Future big leaguer Brian Wilson threw the final three innings of relief and got the win.
In Game 2, Tulane won, 9-4, as shortstop Andy Cannizaro set Tulane single-season records for hits and at-bats in the game.
Game 3 was decided by a six-run Tulane fourth inning. Tulane was going to Omaha for the first time.
A coach who had been to Omaha 18 times spoke to the winning team. Rick Jones remembers.
“Skip Bertman was pure class,” said Jones. “He told Andy Cannizaro he could steal bases in Omaha. He told Jake Gautreau he could hit home runs, because the fences were even shorter at Rosenblatt (Stadium). He got our guys all fired up. Then he walked by me and Schloss (Tulane assistant coach Jim Schlossnagle) and said the following: ‘First time there, you have no chance.’”
“He was right,” said Jones. “That Super Regional was our College World Series.”
Sixteen years later, the reporter can still remember excitement, along with the heat that hovered above Zephyr Field. For pure anticipation, few events in recent New Orleans sports history can match those three sweltering days in June.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.