At first the idea seemed a little daunting to Mason Katz.
But the more Katz thought about it, the more the idea of inheriting Mikie Mahtook’s No. 8 appealed to him.
So Katz, the LSU junior right fielder/first baseman, switched from 5 to the 8 that Mahtook made famous for three seasons when he carved a spot as one of the top players in Tigers history.
“It was an honor when he asked me to take it,” said Katz, who calls Mahtook one of his closest friends. “It makes me work a little bit harder. I would never want to let him down or let my teammates down because of what he did when he wore this number.”
Safe to say that Katz has held up his end of that bargain.
On a team that had to scratch for runs most of the season, Katz is hitting .335 and leads the team with 61 runs, 11 home runs and 15 doubles (tied with Austin Nola). He is second with 48 RBIs, 31 walks and 8 stolen bases.
Those numbers represent the impact Katz makes on the scoreboard.
What he’s done as an emotional spark plug is even more important. And more Mahtook-like.
One reason Katz and Mahtook bonded the last two seasons was because Katz plays with the same energy and fire as his former outfield mate.
Whether it’s a fist pump after a big hit, a mad dash for a seemingly uncatchable fly ball or just a chance to get his teammates revved up, Katz is usually at the eye of the storm for the Tigers.
“I’ve always been an emotional guy and that’s one of the reasons he told me he wanted me to have his number,” Katz said.
“We’d get fired up together in the outfield and go crazy. We both love to win. That’s why we became such good friends.”
Like most friends, Mahtook doesn’t hold back when it comes to speaking his mind.
“He’s as tough a critic as there is,” Katz said. “He tells me and he teaches me. It’s nice to have somebody who’s been through it all to help me like that.”
Not on his mind yet
The 2012 Major League Baseball Draft gets underway on Monday and there will be several Tigers expecting to hear their names at some point in the 50-round marathon.
Newly minted All-SEC Player of the Year Raph Rhymes is one of those players, but he isn’t ready to think much about that process yet with plenty of baseball to play.
“I have not given it much thought,” said Rhymes, who has hit .360 and .459 in his two Division I seasons after being named the NJCAA Division II National Player of the Year on 2009. “We’ve had scout meetings and I told them I’m focused on this season. I’m focused on winning a championship and when we get a little closer I’ll start thinking about it more.”
When that time comes – when Rhymes is selected – he’ll have a choice to make.
A year ago when he was primarily a DH, Pittsburgh drafted him in the 40th round. This season he has played left field almost exclusively, likely making him more attractive to teams.
Rhymes hasn’t shown much power in either of his seasons with only three home runs in each season.
It’s conceivable Rhymes could return for his senior season and get a shot as an infielder – where he played throughout high school at LSU-Eunice.
But he sounds happy to remain an outfielder, regardless of what uniform he wears next season.
“I’ve gotten pretty comfortable out there,” he said and then smiled. “I’ve also realized that you’ve got to be really good to play infield in the SEC.
“There were some growing pains and I’m still not a great outfielder. It takes a lot of work. Wherever the road takes me, I’ll work my hardest to be as good as I can be at whatever position.”
Ready for redemption
LSU closer Nick Goody has thrived this season under most pressure situations.
Now he can’t wait for the next one to come along.
Goody’s last appearance was against Mississippi State in a quarterfinal game at the SEC Tournament on Friday and it didn’t end well. He allowed the Bulldogs to erase a 3-1 deficit in the ninth inning and then allowed the game-winning run in the 10th, his third blown save and second loss of the season.
So is the brash right-hander down in the dumps? Not quite.
“I’m the same as I’ve been all season,” said Goody, who has 10 saves this season. “It’s just something you’ve got to be able to put behind you.”
The easiest way to do that will be stepping back on the mound with a game on the line, something that figures to happen at some point in the next week or two if the Tigers intend to get to the College World Series.
“I’m pumped to get back out there,” Goody said. “On Friday if I need to go in and pitch, I’m going to give everything I have just like I always have.”
There could be a danger of Goody being wound too tight the next time he steps into a save situation.
Like many closers, Goody thrives on the intensity of the situation around him and has been at his best when Alex Box Stadium is rocking.
Add a personal jolt of motivation and Goody could overload on emotion.
“You’ve got to be on an even keel and I’ve tried to like that the entire year,” Goody said. “I can’t let myself get too caught up in what happened before because I need to be focused on the next time I get out there.”
Tigers third baseman Tyler Hanover spent his freshman season at LSU sharing an apartment with ULM pitcher Randy Zeigler, an arrangement they set up after coming to Baton Rouge on an official recruiting visit on the same weekend.
Whether that gives either player an advantage is up in the air. But whatever happens Friday, Hanover said it won’t tarnish the memory of being roommates with Zeigler.
“He knows me pretty well, but I’ve become a different hitter and he’s become a different pitcher,” Hanover said. “We had some good times. He was a different cat.
"It was fun rooming with him. We had a lot of classes together and spent a lot of time together. Everybody kind of knew he was a left-handed oddball and a great teammate.”
At Alex Box Stadium
Game 1: 2 p.m. – (3) Belmont (39-22) vs. (2) Oregon State (38-18)
Game 2: 7 p.m. – (1) LSU (43-16) vs. (4) UL-Monroe (31-28)
Game 3: 2 p.m. – Belmont-Oregon State loser vs. LSU-ULM loser
Game 4: 7 p.m. – Belmont-Oregon State winner vs. LSU-ULM winner
Game 5: 1:30 p.m. – Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser
Game 6: 6:30 p.m. – Game 5 winner vs. Game 4 winner
Game 7: 6:30 p.m. – Game 5 winner vs. Game 4 winner, if necessary