Bertman pulled LSU sports out of mid-’90s doldrums

daniels    Skip Bertman knows a lot about baseball. He knows even more about people.
    A former Tiger relayed this story to me. “I had a really bad game, and Skip called me over,” said the former Tiger. “He told me I was the worst at my position in all of baseball.”
    The former Tiger said he worked overtime to improve. And improve he did. Bertman, the master motivator, had hit the correct button.
    Early in Bertman’s tenure at LSU, I walked onto the field at practice. In the dugout was a plan for the day. And the heading for that plan was direct: “Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right.”
    Skip always believed.
    In the weeks leading up to the 1986 postseason, players had bumper stickers on their vehicles. They read, “Bertman’s baseball Bengals: Omaha bound.”
    That, they were. And, so was I.
    That first LSU trip to the College World Series didn’t go well. Right fielder Joey Belle dropped a fly ball that allowed two Loyola-Marymount runs to score. Belle wasn’t wearing sunglasses. LSU lost 4-3.
    One year later, the Tigers were back in Omaha. LSU led Stanford 5-2 in the bottom of the 10th inning. That’s when Paul Carey hit a grand slam over the left field wall off Ben McDonald.
    In 1991, LSU broke through with its first College World Series championship. The Tigers won in 1993 and again in 1996, when Warren Morris’ only home run of the season in the bottom of the ninth inning won the College World Series for LSU over Miami.
    One year later, LSU was back to beat Alabama in the championship game. And, three years after that, LSU scored three in the eighth and one in the ninth to beat Stanford. The 6-5 win gave Bertman a perfect 5-0 record in CWS championship games.
    The 2000 Tigers were a perfect 9-0 in the NCAA tournament.
    One year later, Skip stepped out of the dugout and into a new role as director of athletics. Privately, some at LSU wondered if Bertman was up to the task.
    Then-chancellor Mark Emmert conducted a “national search.” Turns out, the best candidate was on campus.
    Skip Bertman came along at the best time possible for LSU athletics. Basketball under legendary head coach Dale Brown was struggling mightily. And, in football, the late ’80s led to a bad ending for Mike Archer, and the early ’90s were just plain bad under Curley Hallman.
    Yes, there were plenty of empty seats at Tiger Stadium. But the old Alex Box Stadium was full. Naming the baseball field for Skip Bertman was the least LSU could do.
    He changed our state. Omaha was no longer just some city east of Lincoln, home of the Cornhuskers.
    Because of Skip every LSU baseball team, including the current, has to answer this question.
    “Can you make it to Omaha?”
    Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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