Michael Hollander caught the last out of the regional, a foul pop near third base. Then he flipped it softly into the grandstand.
It was a simple gesture, something any player on the team might have done, but you suppose if anybody understands the meaning of a special souvenir at Alex Box Stadium, it’s someone’s who’s been in those seats.
Hollander, a senior, is preparing for his last weekend at Alex Box. He and junior teammate Nicholas Pontiff are the links to LSU’s national championship years.
Pontiff is the younger brother of the late Wally Pontiff, a freshman starter on LSU’s 2000 team, the most recent to win it all. Hollander grew up idolizing Wally and followed his baseball career path to Jesuit High School in New Orleans and to LSU.
After Wally died of a heart abnormality at 21 in 2002, Hollander was all but paralyzed with shock and grief, unable to play some of his summer-league games.
Six years later, Hollander is playing Wally’s old position, third base, and is the inaugural recipient of LSU’s Wally Pontiff Jr. Scholar Athlete Award.
“I would rather receive this than the Golden Spikes Award,” Hollander said, referring to the award given annually to the best amateur player in the country.
A highlight video can sell a 17-year-old on signing to play baseball at LSU, but it can’t pump purple and gold into his bloodstream the way growing up a fan of the Tigers can.
There is no substitute for being a part of the family before you’re part of the team.
In the years when LSU baseball made the leap from growing program to national power, the Tigers were fond of repeating a Skip Bertman saying: “Hold the rope.”
The pitcher leaving the mound tells the one replacing him. A batter who wills his way on base tells a pinch runner.
The 1996 team tells the 1997 team.
Hold the rope.
Blair Barbier, a player on the 1997 and 2000 national championship teams, was an LSU assistant coach last year. He understood.
Hollander’s LSU career ends when this season ends. Pontiff, a senior in the classroom, may or may not be back.
Whether the season ends at The Box or at the College World Series, who will hold the rope next year, and how tightly?
Turnover in personnel is so common in pro sports, Jerry Seinfeld said of the fans, “When you root for a team these days, you’re mostly rooting for laundry.”
In college sports there is some of that, but a roster of players from Mandeville and Metairie and Shreveport and Baton Rouge has meaning at LSU.
There’s one way this roster, with its sunflower-gold laundry, can ensure the 2009 team has a piece of rope to hold, a link to the championship days. Seven wins would do it.
Two this weekend would buy the ticket for the trip to finish the job.