For LSU Baseball Players and Coaches, Opening Day Brings Jitters, Excitement to 2020 Season

Glen West

Junior right fielder Daniel Cabrera vividly remembers his first game at Alex Box Stadium as a freshman two years ago. The nerves didn't come from stepping up to the plate for the first time or jogging out to find his spot in left field. 

No, the nerves came from something that's usually very routine for elite baseball players.

"The first nerves part for me was catching my first fly ball in the outfield, I was scared," Cabrera said. "I remember blacking out in my first at bat. I think that's when Josh [Smith] hit a homerun in like the eighth to win it for us so it was nuts."

Two years later, the opening day jitters are still there for Cabrera, his coach and many of his teammates as well. 

LSU will start a handful of new faces Friday night, something coach Paul Mainieri said he doesn't usually like doing because of those nerves many experience the first time in Alex Box. This year is a different beast, however, as freshmen Cade Doughty and Hayden Travinski will start at second base and designated hitter while transfer Zack Mathis will start at third base as the Tigers three hole hitter.

"Coach always says the first lineup of the year is rarely the one that ever finishes the season so I tell the young guys that whenever you get your opportunity just take advantage of it," Cabrera said. "I think back on Zach Watson his freshman year when he earned a spot start and just ran away with it."

Even for a guy like Mainieri, who's entering his 38th season as a head coach this year, he knows and feels the importance of opening day. Mainieri actually admitted Thursday he was a little worried that baseball might not be on the minds of fans after such a great year in football but found a way to marry the two sports.

LSU football coach Ed Orgeron will be throwing the first pitch at Friday night's home opener to freshman Maurice Hampton, who not only plays in the outfield for the Tigers, but safety for the football team as well. Orgeron told Mainieri he'd need to ask his wife, Kelly, before making a decision but she ultimately agreed to let him do it.

"There's just something special about it, it's hard to really define why opening night is so exciting and so unique," Mainieri said. "Everybody's hopes are so high and everybody believes that this is going to be their year. For me, it causes a lot of anxiety just because you haven't played against another team since last June."

Former LSU outfielder Antoine Duplantis will throw out the first pitch on Saturday while the Eastbank Little League team, who won the World Series, will throw out first pitches for Sunday's finale.

The pregame festivities are just part of what makes an experience at Alex Box unique but at the end of the day, there's still a job to do. Starting ace pitcher Cole Henry, who's expected to go no more than five innings Friday night, said while the first game won't define a season, it is important to set the tone early.

"Indiana's going to be a tough team so I think if I go out there and do what I can do, that kind of sends a message," Henry said. "I think going out and setting the tone for everybody is a big deal. This is the best team I've ever been on, been a part of. I'd do anything for anybody on this team and I think that's how it's going to be the whole season."

"What I really hope to see is for Cole Henry to go out and establish himself as our Friday night, No. 1 starter that can dominate a game," Mainieri said. "I want to see our guys go out and play good, loose baseball and play fundamentally sound and make the plays."