This wasn't the final season Matthew Beck expected or prepared for. The senior pitcher opted to return for a fifth season with the LSU program after the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to all spring athletes.
He earned the No. 8 jersey, a great honor over the last decade with some of the program's best like Alex Bregman, Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera sporting the number in their careers. For Beck, he envisioned a season as one of the Tigers' primary relief pitchers while also being a veteran leader on a young team.
He's only been able to accomplish half of that goal because of a lingering elbow injury. While Beck has been able to appear in just three outings, all within the first week of the season, his impact has been felt by his teammates, particularly the freshmen players all season.
"Really just being the best leader that we have on this team," outfielder Dylan Crews said. "He's No. 8 for a reason and he's not gonna take that for granted. He comes out, has the best attitude on the team and very thankful to have him as a leader and somebody to look up to."
It was a few weeks back when the idea of letting Beck get an at bat first crossed Paul Mainieri's mind. Beck had been working his way back slowly from the injury but 12 pitches into a bullpen session, he started to feel some tightness in his throwing elbow, forcing him to shut everything down and start over.
Mainieri felt bad for his veteran pitcher and told him that he was going to find a way to give him an at bat before the season ran out. With a 10-2 lead on Southern in the eighth inning and LSU exhausting all of its pinch hitters, Mainieri turned to Beck for an at bat on Monday evening.
Beck was no stranger to hitting as he hit .430 in high school one season but it had been a while. It took about a half inning for Beck to find a helmet that fit and a bat that felt comfortable but he finally stepped up to the plate and drilled a line drive to right field for an opposite field single, a ball that came off the bat at 103 mph.
"Gavin Dugas was having a rough day, we needed a spark and he did his best Todd Peterson impression today," Mainieri said. "I was really impressed with Beck's approach with two strikes hitting to the opposite field. Matthew is so poplular among his teammates and everybody's been broken hearted for him so it just seemed like the right moment to have a little bit of fun.
It's been uncharted territory for Beck this season, who's just been trying to bring consistent energy to the dugout even though he's not playing.
"It's been new territory and hasn't been real fun but it's been the same message every single day which is to show up with a great attitude and bringing the most effort I can," Beck said. "Leading these guys where I can and being there for them with anything they can possibly ask me. It's been different but those guys have been in my corner throughout the entire process. They mean the absolute world to me."
The ultimate goal is to see Beck return to the mound at some point this season but with three weeks left in the regular season, time is running out. After Beck's setback, he had another small procedure done that the team is hoping will get him back sooner than later.
Not only was it a significant day for Beck because of the hit but also it was the second straight day that he threw from 90 feet, a positive sign for getting back on the mound. Whether he's able to make his return to the mound or not, Beck is extremely appreciative of his time at LSU and has no regrets as he moves on to the next stage in life.
"As a kid growing up in Louisiana, you want to play at LSU. My roots here are so deep and it's a place that I've always had so much pride in," Beck said. "When I got here, I understood the tradition and the pride this place has competing for a national championship. Giving that championship effort day in and day out is something I've done and I told coach Mainieri I have absolutely no regrets."
Picture courtesy of LSUsports.