WASHINGTON - That the national champion LSU baseball team traveled through the federal city Wednesday on a bus from a company called “Champion Coach” seemed fitting.
Thirty-one players made the trip, which included a luncheon, a reception at the White House and a visit with Vice President Joe Biden. The president was out of the country. “I’ve never been out of Louisiana before except to play baseball,” said William DeLatte, a redshirt freshman third baseman.
As much as it was important to visit the nation’s most famous house, coach Paul Mainieri made it a point to schedule visits to war memorials that included the Vietnam Memorial, Korean Memorial and Arlington Cemetery.
“It’s only possible because of their sacrifices,” Mainieri said at a luncheon for the team hosted by Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana. “And I think it’s important for them to understand that.”
But Mainieri was not dampening the excitement. The coach said he had trouble sleeping the night before looking forward to the trip.
“It’s the most amazing country in the world and they’re inviting LSU to Washington,” Mainieri said. “I told the players, this is a taste of victory.”
Five of the LSU players who went pro after the Tigers won the college baseball World Series in June came back for the honors.
Outfielder Jared Mitchell once had a chance to visit the White House to meet George W. Bush as part of the 2007 football national champions. Mitchell got permission from the Chicago White Sox, who he now plays minor league ball for in Arizona, to return to join his teammates.
“It’s like I was blessed twice to be able to come around a second time,” Mitchell said. “And I couldn’t pass it up.”
The only player missing from the team visit was relief pitcher Chad Jones. He also is on the LSU Tigers football team. The pitcher and safety had a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown last week and played critical roles in two goal-line stances in the team’s victory against Mississippi State.
Jones is preparing for Saturday’s football game against the University of Georgia.
“I said you’re not invited,” Mainieri said chuckling. “You’ve got to get ready for Georgia.”
The bus pulled up to Landrieu’s home on Capitol Hill and the first thing the players saw stepping off was the Capitol four blocks away. But they acknowledged the White House is what they set their sights on.
“It’s every kid’s dream to win the World Series and come to the White House,” said Micah Gibbs, a junior catcher. “It’s kind of a fantasy for every kid, and when you get here it really sinks in about what kind of impact you have.”
Blake Dean, the team’s slugging designated hitter, said it was special to be in the city with his fellow players.
“I’m going to take away a lot of memories with my teammates,” Dean said.
The White House reception was not open to the media.
Bill Franques, an LSU spokesman for the team, said afterward they were given a tour and met Biden in a room in the West Wing, where a reception was held. The vice president spent 15 minutes with the players before excusing himself for a meeting in the situation room over Afghanistan, Franques said.
Biden, an avid Philadelphia Phillies fan, was recently inducted into the Little League Hall of Fame for his service.
Mikie Mahtook, a center fielder and sophomore from Lafayette, called the experience “awesome.”
“It’s something you see all the national championship teams doing,” Mahtook said. “And you’re doing it.”
Players autographed a team jersey for Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, of Metairie. Scalise wore the jersey in the annual congressional baseball game, which Republicans lost.
“These guys were inspirational,” Scalise said.
Adding, that’s not to mention the fodder for ribbing Texas congressmen that the team provided for beating University of Texas in the World Series finals, Scalise said.
“It gave us something to give our Texas colleagues a real hard time about,” Scalise said.
Congratulations once again, Tigers! Sorry you couldn't make it, Chad... but, you have some Georgia Bulldogs to think about!!!