Alex Box

"Old solders never die, they just fade away." Those words, part of the late General of the US Army, Douglas MacArthur's farewell address to Congress are a perfect description of the present Alex Box Stadium. The LSU baseball family will have a new home next year and while a new chapter will be made the old will not be forgotten.

The stadium will fade away when it faces the wrecking ball sometime in the near future. What will never die are the memories that have been made at the old stadium because they will just continue in the new Alex Box Stadium scheduled to open next season.

 

Now, thanks to an amazing late-season resurgence by the Tigers, one final chapter of memories was recorded by a record crowd of 8,173 that watched the final LSU baseball game played and won in the 70-year-old stadium.

 

And what a memory it will be! 

 

The Tigers (48-17-1) defeated the University of California-Irvine in the final game of the NCAA Super Regional Championship Tournament to advance to the College World Series at Omaha Nebraska’s Rosenblatt Stadium.

 

Who was Alex Box?

 

The stadiums (old and new), bear the name of the late First Lieutenant Simeon Alexander “Alex” Box who served as a member of the First Infantry Division’s “Big Red One” in the North Africa campaign of World War II. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery displayed on November 9, 1942 as a tank commander, helping to destroy six enemy machine gun positions and an artillery emplacement near Arcote, Algeria.

 

On February 19, 1943 the 22-year old soldier became the first LSU casualty of the war. He was killed instantly when his tank hit a German land mine and later was posthumously awarded The Purple Heart.

 

The LSU Board of Supervisors by a unanimous vote at its May 18, 1943 meeting renamed the former LSU Diamond Field Alex Box Stadium in honor of the Quitman, Mississippi native. It was the first LSU sports facility to be named in honor of an individual. 

 

Box came to LSU on a football scholarship in 1938 after graduating from Gardiner High in Laurel, Mississippi. He lettered as a halfback in football and played in the outfield on the 1942 Tiger baseball team. The 1942 petroleum-engineering graduate served as vice-president of his junior class the previous year.

 

Unlike the soldiers that General MacArthur talked about Alex Box died young, however, the stadium named for the young soldier will not fade away.  LSU baseball will resume playing baseball in a new Alex Box Stadium a little south down Nicholson Drive from its present-day location. Neither the memory of Alex Box’s World War II heroism or that of games played on the hallowed grounds of the 70-year old ballpark bearing his name will ever fade away from Tiger fans memories.

 

The move comes 66 years after Box’s death and will end 70 years of LSU baseball action in the facility built as part of the United States Works Progress Administration (WPA) during 1938. 

 

The stadium was finished in time to serve as the spring training home of the New York Giants (now San Francisco) under legendary manager Bill Terry. That team included the late Mel Ott, a Gretna, Louisiana native and hall of fame player, along with Carl Hubble, and Dick Bartell.

 

Other professional players of that era making appearances included late hall of fame greats, Jimmy Foxx, Jerome “Dizzy” Dean, and Ted Williams.

 

The LSU campus has changed much since Box was a scholar-athlete.

 

There was no modern Student Union, the Huey P. Long Field House served as a meeting place. Nicholson Drive ended at the crossover to Highland Road just past Tiger Stadium, which had not yet been renovated to close in the south end and bring capacity up to 65,000-plus.

 

The basketball team played in the old Gym Armory with the move to Parker Coliseum still in the future and the Maravich Center even further in the future. Current Bernie Moore Stadium was still a cinder track and boxing was an inter-collegiate sport.

 

Baton Rouge, home of LSU since its early days when the Old War Skule was located where the State Capitol building now stands is also much changed since Box’s pre-WW II student-athlete days.

 

Long gone are the Third Street movie houses, drug stores, department stores, a hotel, lounges, and the Piccadilly Cafeteria. The Standard Oil Company refinery, now Exxon still looms large. But, Metro Airport located on old Harding Field Air Station has made the old City Airport another memory of long ago. Trains no longer carry passengers, including prospective LSU students to the old Yazoo-Mississippi River Valley Station next to the River.

 

The two ferryboats are gone and the old Huey P. Long Bridge north of the city has a new modern designed crossing mate not far from the LSU campus.

 

Over the Years

 

Alex Box would be amazed with the changes made to the old stadium since his playing days. It has grown from an original 2,500-seat facility into a current capacity of 7,760, and will grow even more as the new Alex Box Stadium will seat 8,786. 

 

The old park is still an icebox during the cold playing nights of the early season games of February and March and a sweatbox during day games of May.

 

Those distant outfield fences have long been moved in and the once tall, thick rows of cane are no more, new standards holding high-powered lights have been installed. The train still blows its whistle at 10-o’clock as it approaches the railroad crossing at Skip Bertman Drive (formerly West Stadium Drive), but the smell of cattle manure in the field across the track when the wind blows from the west isn’t anymore.

 

A state-of-the-art electronic scoreboard with giant replay screen sits just to the right of center field and right field boast what is marked as “Intimidator” billboard depicting LSU’s five national championships of 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97, and ‘2000.

 

The grass field now splendidly cared for, once provided practice ground for the football teams. 

 

Beginning with the late coach Bernie Moore and continuing to teams coached by the late Gaynel Tinsley, the late Charles McClendon and Coach Paul Dietzel who led the football Tigers to the 1958 National Championship. It was also used as extra parking space for Saturday night football at Tiger Stadium.

 

The field that Box and his teammates played on had only one team dugout instead of two. The LSU team as it does at the present time used the dugout on the first base side.

 

Who Coached at Alex Box Stadium?

 

According to long time Advocate sportswriter, Ted Castillo, “The late Coach Harry Rabenhorst (1926-’42 and ’46-’56, 220-226-3 through 25 seasons) had the opposing team’s players and coaches sit on benches out in the sun off the third base side.”

 

Castillo, himself a WW II Navy veteran served as sports editor of the LSU Reveille Newspaper.

 

He recalls, “Football was the main sport at LSU back then. Baseball players were usually recruited to also play either football (like the great Alvin Dark) or basketball (like another great, Joe Bill Adcock).”

 

Castillo remembers “that the baseball coach, the late Jim Smith (238-251) through 13 years (1966-78), also served as the football equipment manager.”

 

Smith guided the 1975 LSU team (40-16) to an SEC title with wins of 5-6 and 8-3 over Georgia before later being eliminated by Miami in regional tournament action.

 

One of Smith’s recruits was an outfielder from Miami by the name of Paul Mainieri. Now Tiger head coach, Mainieri earned a letter on the Tigers’ 1976 club before transferring to Miami-Dade Junior College for one season. He moved on to the University of New Orleans where he played two seasons for former Privateer coach, Ron Maestri.

 

The late Raymond Didier, who became the Father of athletics as Athletic Director at Nichols State in Thibodaux coached LSU baseball (1957-63) posting a 104-79 mark through six seasons. His 1961 team (20-5) won the SEC championship with victories of 4-3 and 6-5 over Auburn.

 

The late Jack Lamabe, a former major league pitcher followed Smith as coach at LSU. Through four seasons (1979-83) he guided the Tigers to a record of 134-115.

 

Smoke Laval (’02-0’06) served as coach at LSU through five seasons, posting a 210-109 record that included taking the Tigers to a SEC title (’03), West Division championship (’05), three straight of four regional wins (’02, ’03, ’04), two consecutive of three super regional wins (’03, ’04), and two successive world series appearances (’03, ’04).

 

The Dean of LSU Baseball

 

Skip Bertman took charge in 1984 and became the heart and soul of LSU baseball while changing the program forever more.  “When I came to LSU there were two sports,” Bertman says. “They were football and spring football.”

 

Bertman worked tirelessly to bring special promotions to baseball games, building support for his program on campus throughout the greater Baton Rouge area, and across Louisiana.

 

His savvy talent in recruiting, developing outstanding players, and tremendous coaching ability set the cornerstone on which he built LSU baseball into the giant of success it has become known to be.

 

After guiding his Tiger teams to a record of 870-330-3 (five national championships) through 18 seasons (’84-2000), Bertman relinquished his coaching duties.

 

He has a record of 106-41 in 16 NCAA tournament appearances, including 70-17 in 87 regional contests, 7-7 in 14 super regional games, and 29-17 in 13 College World Series appearances. 

 

He became LSU’s Athletic Director in ’02 and will retire on June 30th of this year. He’ll move into a fund raising position at LSU following his retirement as AD.

 

In seven seasons as captain at the helm of the Tiger athletic ship, Bertman has guided the LSU sports program to unparalleled success.

 

“This year 19 of our 20 sports teams (only men’s basketball did not) made the NCAA playoffs,” Bertman says proudly.

 

A New Era

 

Alex Box would indeed be proud that Tiger baseball is moving into a new state-of-the-art facility, the splendid accomplishments of past teams, and with the way that the present team under Mainieri appears to be making a move in continuing the success that has made LSU the envy of collegiate baseball around the Southeastern Conference and across the nation.

 

Especially with Mainieri’s current Tiger team which had prowled its way past 23 consecutive opponents, including 16 in SEC play. The late-season heroics of sweeping its final four conference series earned LSU a second-place overall finish and the West Division title.

 

The Tigers continued their impressive turn-around from a shaky start (23-16-1 overall and 12-11-1 in SEC play) to earn a No. 2 seed and going on to sweep four straight games in winning the SEC Championship Baseball Tournament at Regions Park in Hoover, Alabama.

 

Through regular and post-season play, LSU has defeated eight of nine non-conference opponents, including seven in a row before a Super Regional Series opening game loss to UC-Irvine.

 

The Tigers have roared their way back from an one-time 11th place overall SEC spot to earn their way back to host and win Regional and Super Regional tournaments at Alex Box Stadium.

 

The 23-game win streak eclipsed its previous all-time best of 19 that came during the 1997 campaign and previous longest SEC season streak of 22 set by South Carolina in 2000.

 

The late season heroics have vaulted LSU back into the national rankings coming as high as No. 2 in the country in one poll.

 

A Piece of History

 

All the success, possibly with a little divine help from Alex Box himself, has helped continue the great legacy of baseball at the old Alex Box Stadium.

 

Crowds in excess of 7,000 loudly expressing their love and appreciation while watching their diamond heroes in action would amaze him.  Box would enjoy the site of tailgating fans before and after games in the area behind the outfield fence known as “Home Run Village.

He would no doubt be thrilled that action would be reported in newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet.

 

Alex Box Stadium has been home to LSU baseball for all but 45 of the 115-year history of play as the school’s first sanctioned college sport. Some circles give credit to 1893’s first team for selecting the Tigers’ tradition of wearing purple and gold.

 

Through 112 seasons and under 25 coaches thus far LSU baseball has a 2,105-1,396-23 record overall through 3,524 games.

 

Castillo recalls former football coach Gerry Dinardo (1995-99) saying “Baseball was the No. 1 sport when I came to LSU and it was No.1 when I left.”

 

There have been 1,687 games played at the current Alex Box Stadium with LSU posting 1,180 victories. The Tigers have won 14 SEC titles, posting a 58-26 overall record that includes going 54-34 in winning 12 of 23 SEC tournament titles.

 

Thanks to the team’s late-season winning surge LSU baseball faithful watched their Tigers return to Alex Box Stadium to host regional No.18 and win for the first time since ’05. LSU had posted an, 109-41 record in 22 regional tournaments since 1975, including a string of 17 appearances between ’89 and ’05.

 

The Regional victory provided LSU with the opportunity to host and win a Super Regional Tournament since ‘04. The Tigers are 9-8 in seven Super Regional appearances, including four as the host team.

 

Now LSU returns to CWS play for the 14th time and first appearance since ’04. The Tigers, 29-17 overall in CWS play are seeking their sixth National Title and first since 2000.

 

Paul Mainieri’s Program

 

Achieving that ultimate goal and returning LSU baseball to the lofty, pinnacle of its former, glory years by the current Tiger team comes on the duty watch of coach Paul Mainieri.

 

Mainieri has experienced playing for LSU and successfully coaching the Tigers during the regular-season, regional, and super regional action on the field of Alex Box Stadium. Now coach, staff, and team members will have the opportunity to continue that experience in CWS play.

 

It’s an honor that he relishes, while hoping to add to his current 26-year, impressive 939-534-6 overall record, including 760-413-6 against Division I teams. That mark includes a record of 170-12-1 in six seasons at St. Thomas, Florida, 162 in six at the United States Air Force Academy, and 533-213-3 through 12 at Notre Dame. He holds a present record at LSU of 75-42-2 into his second year thus far.

 

Farewell

 

There will be tears in the eyes of all when the wrecking ball starts demolition of beloved old Alex Box Stadium. Those tears will be turned into a gleam when the first-pitch is thrown signaling the start of play at the new Alex Box Stadium as it rises like a Phoenix next season.

 

Perhaps a little rain followed by bright sunshine will be a sign in the sky of an approval for a job well done in both past and future parks from Simeon Alexander “Alex” Box himself.

 

Most Tiger fans will never be able to pay tribute personally to Box at his gravesite located in North African American Cemetery, Carthage, Tunisia.

 

Now the final out has been recorded and post game celebrations are over. Maybe fans should pass by the old Alex Box one last time to show a sign of respect by pausing to read and touch the plaque on the outside of the stadium that describes Alex Box’s heroic wartime sacrifice.

 

Doing so would remind all of us that in giving up his life and his acts of bravery along with many others of America’s Greatest Generation is the reason we are able to enjoy a life of freedom today, including the right to be a fan and experience the thrill of watching baseball played at stadiums past and future honoring the name Alex Box.

 

Al Tircuit’s Memories at the Box

 

How many personal memories are there of fans attending games at Alex Box Stadium?

 

Probably more that those, who claim to have been in Tiger Stadium to see Heisman Trophy winner and All-America halfback, Billy Cannon race 89-yards on punt return for a touchdown that gave LSU its 7-3 football victory over ‘Ole Miss on Halloween night in 1959.

 

My own memories began when I first glanced at the huge grandstand as a young pre-teen.

The stadium seemed to remind me of the big league parks from which I watched action on TV as Old “Dizz” and “Pewee” described play-by-play. It was impressive.

 

Later, in February of 1957 I got the opportunity to get onto the field to receive instruction as part of the Baton Rouge Baseball Clinic. I was thrilled to learn that I would be taught the art of catching and throwing necessary to play right field and hitting. My big-league instructor was introduced as a young rising star player by the name of Al Kaline. He was a former American League Rookie of The Year Award winner and member of the Detroit Tigers.

 

Like all young baseball lovers I collected player cards out of bubble gum packs. I remember being excited when I realized that I had cards of Dark from Lake Charles and Adcock of Coushatta, who had both advanced to the major leagues after playing baseball at LSU.

 

Sitting in the grandstand and watching play at Alex Box Stadium, as a fan some years later was a thrill. I remember attending a game and seeing an opponent team’s player hit a home run that landed near the married student apartments beyond the left field fence.

 

No matter what the weather just sitting in the stands seemed magical. One could close their eyes and see Nellie Fox and Louie Appriccio turn a double play for the White Sox at Chicago’s old Comisky Park, Willie Mays make a running over-the-shoulder catch for the Giants at New York’s Polo Grounds, Roberto Clemente of the Pirates make a catch against the Ivy walls of Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, or Stan Musial of the Cardinals collect his career hit No. 3,000 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

 

You could hear Harry Carey sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of a Cubs’ game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, or Lou Gehrig’s emotion-field farewell to the crowd at New York’s Yankee Stadium, or maybe the Dodger Symphony playing a tune at Brooklyn’s Ebbitts Field.

 

Being at the Box gave you the feeling of being part of the noisy crowds in the grand old parks like Cincinnati’s Crosley Field home of the Reds, where baseball was first played under nighttime lights.

 

I also have fond memories of covering games at Alex Box Stadium as a sports reporter. There were many long, hot summer night reporting Legion games and equally long, but cold early spring evenings covering high school games.

 

As a one-time member of the Baton Rouge Kids Baseball Clinic, another joy was seeing the young boys and girls have fun attending BREC’s Clinic Programs to receive instruction from former and current big league players and those from LSU, Southern and other state universities.

 

Covering some of LSU’s finest former players of the recent past in high school and college was another big thrill for me along with seeing them go on to have productive careers as major leaguers.

 

A few of my favorites include Andy Sheets of St. Amant, Jay Patterson and Jason Williams of Gonzales. Other favorites were the Moock brothers, Joe, Mike, and Pat of Baton Rouge, Moock grandsons, Chris and Greg of Baker, and also Ben McDonald and Russ Johnson of Denham Springs.

 

Knowing that they went on to enjoy other productive careers, become community leaders, and good strong family people is for me as the old Cajun French saying goes, lagniappe.

 

I watched Dark and other greats play on TV and had the opportunity to see Adcock play in a game against the Giants at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. He hit what I believe to be the hardest ever ground ball for an up-the-middle single that I ever saw. Future Hall-of-Fame player, Mays of the Giants struck out three times while another future hall of fame player, Hank Aaron, who was to become baseball all-time home run leader, hit a ball out of the park.

 

The Old Alex Box Stadium is a throwback to the days when sports stadiums had spirit of their own. Now like many of those that have gone the way of the wrecking ball, Alex Box will face a similar fate, but the spirit will live on in the new stadium.

 

Like all those historic, grand old stadiums Alex Box holds a special place in my memory.

How many memories are there of being a fan at old Alex Box after the final game ended?  More than in the number packed into the time capsule that will be placed at the new stadium.


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