A Mardi Gras parade had broken out in the left-field bleachers. There was a purple and gold dogpile on the pitcher's mound. And a conga line of revelers chanted, “L-S-U, L-S-U, L-S-U'' as they marched out of Rosenblatt Stadium, down 13th Street and wherever the night would take them.
The sights and sounds of the College World Series on Wednesday night came rushing back, like an old flashback. But the scene was so vivid you had to check the calendar.
Was this 1997 or 2009?
It was most certainly the latter. LSU won its sixth NCAA Division I baseball championship on Wednesday night. It had been nine years since the last one.
Nine years? Really?
Don't look now, but the Tigers are baaaaaack.
They made the declaration at this College World Series, and they finished it off with an exclamation point on Wednesday night, pounding Texas 11-4. How the Bayou Bengals did it — dropping a five-run spot in the sixth to break a 4-4 tie, never letting go and making it look effortless — simply added to the retro theme of the night.
And while it all seemed too familiar, this was a rarity unfolding on the grand Rosenblatt stage.
This was a college baseball dynasty reinvigorated and reinvented, in the form of a national champion.
LSU won five CWS flags from 1991 to 2000. Now the Tigers are at it again, with a new coach and a team with more balance and more ways to win than the Gorilla Ball of yesteryear.
You would think that it's happened a lot. Even with college baseball awash in parity, we see so many of the same teams over and over. Don't they always do it again and again?
Not really. CWS dynasties don't usually come back to win it again with another coach, in another era.
There was Miami, with Ron Fraser and Jim Morris. Texas won two national titles each with Bibb Falk, Cliff Gustafson and Augie Garrido. Cal State Fullerton, with Garrido and George Horton.
And USC, winning 11 with Rod Dedeaux as the sport's John Wooden, but then going from 1978 until 1998 without one. But that year has turned out to be an anomaly for the Trojans.
Is that how it will be for LSU? Or is this the beginning of a new championship era for the Paul Mainieri Tigers?
What they did Wednesday night certainly looked and felt like the latter.
Welcome to the club, Coach. Mainieri, a veteran who has made a career of building up schools with little tradition, won his first national championship. Sure, he took a job where you win national titles, but Mainieri brought LSU to the mountaintop as much as the school's tradition carried him.
The smooth yet fiery Mainieri had to teach this program how to win again, how to play with the confidence and swagger it had under Skip Bertman. You can recruit and teach fundamentals. But reinstilling confidence is the heavy lifting in any revival of tradition.
“He did his greatest coaching job this year,'' Bertman said. “I'm happy for him. He had the best group here.''
That attitude was important in the sixth inning. LSU had gone up 4-0, but Texas pounded back to tie it in the bottom of the fifth. This was anybody's game now. This was for the team that wouldn't blink.
The very next at-bat, the Tigers clawed back. It started with MVP Jared Mitchell working a full-count walk. He went to second on a passed ball, and it was on. Two hits, a walk, two hit batters and a Texas throwing error later, the Tigers were up 9-4.
It was not exactly how Bertman's boys used to do it. But the common theme was how LSU fed off the opening that Texas offered and literally pounced on the moment, and the game.
Don't cry for Augie. That pitching staff will be just as deep next year, and the whole lot of the Texas kids will be hungrier with battle scars to boot. Big 12 baseball won't be fair next year. And don't be surprised if the Horns make it back to this stage again. We never are.
LSU? The Tigers lose some key players, but a good share of the championship bunch will return. We've seen how Mainieri can recruit. We could be right back here again, turning off the lights at Rosenblatt for good with an orange and purple backdrop.
Ah, yes. The last CWS at Rosenblatt. We won't belabor the point now, but it will be on our minds off and on for the next year. The next time we do this here will be the last time we do this here.
In that sense, there was a comfort for locals in the sights and sounds last night. No matter what happens next year, Rosenblatt got to experience one more Mardi Gras. For LSU and the CWS, it's something that never gets old.
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