The old man

The ‘old man' will be roaming the dugout for the LSU baseball squad this season, but the guy that fits that label is probably not the one that most have in mind. Very few people would classify LSU pitcher Louis Coleman as an old man, but when he decided to return to LSU for his senior season the thought of that name crossed his mind a few times.

Coleman certainly has experienced his shares of ups and downs since signing with the Tigers in November of 2005.


As a true freshman, Coleman, who emerged as the Tigers Friday night SEC starter, started 13 games on the year and finished with a 5-6 record and a 6.14 earned run average.


During his sophomore season, the big right-handed hurler was used more in a relief role in Paul Mainieri’s first year in the dugout. Coleman battled through some arm problems but still made 22 appearances and posted a 2-3 mark with four saves.


Entering his junior campaign, Coleman’s role was undefined but that changed when he became the Tigers most consistent and dominating pitcher when LSU went on its 23-game winning streak and earned the school’s first trip to Omaha since 2004.


Coleman was brilliant over the last two months of the season and it all started on April 15 when he started against Nicholls State in a midweek outing. Coleman threw five innings of three-hit ball and didn’t allow a run in picking up his second victory of the season.


Including the performance against the Colonels, the Schlater, Miss.-native went on a run where he was 7-1 with two saves and 1.91 ERA. Opponents batted just .217 against Coleman during that span and three of his seven wins along with his lone defeat came in the postseason.

Coleman had a tough decision to make following last season after being drafted in the 14th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft by the Washington Nationals. However, after mulling things over until late in the summer, Coleman turned down the money and decided to return for his senior season. That is a decision that he is glad he made.


“It’s human nature to think of what I could have done or that I could be playing Single-A, Double-A, or whatever, but I’m so happy where I am right now. I couldn’t be any happier than I am now,” Coleman said.


LSU fans can thank the Nationals management for taking the approach that they did, but money wasn’t the only factor in Coleman’s decision to return.


“There really wasn’t an amount of money that could have taken me away from this place,” he said. “Of course, you’re offered 10 million dollars and you have to go, but it’s LSU. We’re getting a new stadium and I have 40 of my best friends in the locker room so that sort of thing is something you really can’t put a price on.”


Something else that Coleman can’t put a price tag on is a return trip to Omaha for the College World Series.


After going through his freshman and sophomore years where the closest LSU got to postseason play was an SEC Tournament berth in 2005, Coleman was as excited as anyone else to see the Tigers return to the place they owned from 1991-2000 when LSU won five national championships in 10 years.


“That’s what I thought it was going to be like my freshman year so to do all of that in one season was incredible,” said Coleman. “Just going back to Omaha was another big reason why I came back to school.”


For his final go round, LSU will enter the 2009 season ranked No. 1 or 2 in the country in most of the polls, so expectations are higher than ever for LSU since Coleman has been in Baton Rouge.


“Growing up, I was never on a team where people said this team is supposed to be good,” he said. “Last year, we were picked to finish near the end of the SEC, so to be on this kind of team is something special and something I’ll remember forever.”


After finishing No. 6 in the final polls and returning 24 position players that made significant contributions last season, it would be easy for a group of young men to get ahead of themselves and focus on the outcome rather than the process.


Mainieri will do his best to make sure that doesn’t happen and he will also get a little help from Coleman in getting that point across.


“You carry yourself in the same manner you did last year,” Coleman said. “We knew we were good last year but nobody else did. This year, we know it and so does everybody else so we’re not going to be sneaking up on anybody.”


LSU’s lineup from top to bottom is as talented as any team in the country, but if there is one unknown with this squad then it would be the starting pitchers.


LSU lost Ryan Verdugo and Blake Martin to major league baseball then Jordan Brown gave up his final year of eligibility because of multiple injuries that hindered his offseason work.


Mainieri is expecting to go with three sophomores in the starting rotation to start the year in Anthony Reynaudo, Austin Ross and Daniel Bradshaw. The three young hurlers combined to start five games in 2008 and they had a combined record of 8-5.


Coleman said that some of the older guys coming out of the bullpen will help the young guys along the way, as well as the potent lineup that the Tigers will field.


“We’re going to have some guys who can hit the ball a long way,” he said. “I think we’re going to score a lot of runs this year and we all agree that our infield is probably one of the best in the country. We don’t have to be perfect, but just keep it close enough to where (Blake) Dean and Leon (Landry) get the hits in the end.”


Coleman said he expects his role to be similar to the one that Jared Bradford had last season where he could start a game if needed, but will be utilized more as a closer.


After serving as a starter, a middle reliever, and a closer over the course of his career, Coleman is comfortable with anything that Mainieri throws at him. That is the unselfish nature and do anything for the team mentality that Coleman has.


But make no mistake about it, Coleman relishes the idea of being the closer.


“I really do,” he said. “It’s fun to be involved in every game and not just sitting in the dugout cheering them on, but to actually get in every game as a closer you always have a shot to make an impact on the game.


“Mentally you always have to be ready and I think that part is fun then to get in the game as a closer it’s always crunch time. It’s always a very unique situation every time.”


Before the sidearm throwing Coleman assumes his role as the closer he will make at least one more start for the Tigers when they take the field on February 20 in the first game at the New Alex Box Stadium.


Mainieri designated Coleman to start that game shortly after he opted to return for his senior season, and that will be a night that Coleman will always remember.


“I was standing on the mound the other day and there wasn’t anybody in the stadium, and I was just looking,” said Coleman. “It’s going to be something special and something I will forever remember. I’ll remember every pitch in that game 20 years from now. That stadium is unbelievable and I can’t imagine how nice it’s going to be with 9,000 screaming LSU fans.” 


Something else that Coleman will always remember is his first trip to Omaha. But there are more memories that he has accumulated over the last three and a half years that mean just as much.


“Omaha is everyone’s dream but playing here at LSU has been a dream within itself,” Coleman said.

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