Laval's Tigers, that's right "Laval's Tigers," were basking in the glow of a 4-0 victory over Texas A&M which landed LSU in the College World Series for the 13th time in school history, the second straight visit to Omaha on Laval's watch.
You would think with a 46-17 record, the most wins ever by a Laval-coached team, that LSU's CWS berth was just another rung in the 2004 ladder for this Tiger squad. However, a season riddled with unrest among fans due to inconsistent tendencies by this club left some of the most ardent LSU followers wishing for the days of Bertman-ball and questioning the abilities of Smoke and staff.
While Laval admitted his team, staff and himself did not let some of the unfair belly-aching bother them, you could see a sense of pride on their faces in the Sunday evening sunset this day in The Box. This was more than just a win over Texas A&M, another super regional crown or even another trek to college baseball's highest mountain in Omaha, you got a sense this was the beginning of a march toward the promised land – a statement if you will.
"I never felt it was one me," Laval said. "In other words, we went 41-15, I don't know how much better you can do. What more will it take? There are no answers. In hindsight, you do the best you can and you know in your heart if you prepared the club right and put them in position to win the ballgame. That is all you can do. Sometimes you win them and sometimes you don't."
Ray "Smoke" Laval is in his third year at LSU
While Laval seemed to step lightly around the issue as he prepares his team for the final surge that could end with the school's sixth national title, it is obvious the head man is well aware of his critics.
"It is never shooting from the hip, there is always a plan and I tell you one thing, whenever you are not in it for the kids and their best interest, then it is time to get out," Laval said. "I don't care or listen to it. It can hurt at times. Everybody is human when you hear it bouncing off the walls, but it really doesn't phase me."
To his credit, Laval has been the bigger man throughout a season in which, at times, the criticism was down right mean and uncalled for. As this column has defended Laval in the past we do so again, the only crime against Laval is he is not Skip Bertman. It is obvious the man can coach (look at what he accomplished at ULM and now at LSU), it is just going to take the time and patience to get his foothold on the program.
Speaking with Smoke on Monday afternoon, Laval is not known as being a great orator. However, he explained this team and its goals in a way that made a heckuva lot of sense. No one player on this team played for Skip Bertman, or had ever went to Omaha as an LSU baseball player.
"I think last year, since no one on the team had been to Omaha, that the thing was to get to Omaha," Laval said. "This year, we have said it from the very beginning, make it to the championship series. We want to be in that championship series in the end – so maybe that's it."
It was almost as if Laval has had to rebuild in a sense, due to the fact no one had CWS experience until last year. However, Laval and his Tigers are on course to rebuild the dynasty, much the way Bertman did in the mid 1980s, and try and reclaim in the grandeur of the 1990s.
Editor's Note: I would like to ask all our readers to keep Tiger Rag featured columnist Jim Engster in your prayers. Jim, who is the program director at WRKF in Baton Rouge and the former host of Louisiana Live, was seriously injured in a car accident near Napoleonville, La. on the afternoon of Saturday, June 12. He is currently in stable, but guarded condition at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. Please feel free to e-mail get well wishes to Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass them on to him. The e-mail account is currently being generated and should be up and running by Wednesday morning, June 16.