Back and better than ever

Reflecting upon the Tiger baseball team's run to the College World Series last season, the impact of a slew of newcomers jumps out as one of the most integral pieces to the puzzle. One of those Tigers was Leon Landry, who looks towards 2009 as an opportunity to pick up where he left off after his freshman campaign.

From Blake Dean to head coach Paul Mainieri, the sentiment on centerfielder Leon Landry remains the same.


"He is unbelievable with the strides he has made," Dean said. "He is nowhere near the same player that he was. A lot of the guys went out and had big summers, but Leon is someone who came back and you can just tell how much he has grown. He is definitely the most improved guy out here."


Landry spent the summer in the Cal Ripken Sr. League, where he was named the No. 1 prospect by Baseball America magazine. He earned MVP honors in the league's championship series en route to leading the Youse's Maryland Orioles to the title. The Baton Rouge-native hit .304 (21-for-69) with four doubles, two triples, 16 RBI and 17 runs in 20 games.


The dynamic summer campaign came after an equally impressive freshman outing last spring, hitting .271 (58-for-214) in 57 starts with 10 doubles, five triples, five home runs, 26 RBI and 12 steals.


Even more impressive is the fact that the summer prior, Landry was leaving Baker High as just another high school prospect trying to make it big. Fast forward one year, and Landry has welcomed all the changes with open arms.


"I was just another kid from a small high school, and then I walked into this," Landry said. "We did it all, from the No. 1 recruiting class to making the run to Omaha to closing out the Box. It was an experience like no other.


"I can't put it into words, but it was exactly what I came to LSU to be a part of. From the games to practices to workouts to the fans, the whole experience was all good, and I enjoyed every last bit of it."


Going from Baker High's three-sport star to the grandest stage of NCAA baseball was a transition that took just one year to make a reality. Though the timeframe might seem small to some, Landry took to the field with a different approach.


"I definitely went out there and told myself that I wanted to make it all happen that season and fortunately for me it did," he said. "I will admit the transition was a bit tough, and that took me by surprise. Once I got accustomed to everything and got into my groove, I was just on point."


When the NCAA Regional tournament rolled into town, the Baton Rouge-native came into his own, batting .333 (3-for-9), with one double, one homer and three RBI en route to earning All-Tournament Team honors. While his play was reminiscent of that of a seasoned veteran, Landry admits that the butterflies of a freshman remained.


"As a young kid put in the predicament I was in, who would not feel the pressure," he said. "Obviously I had a ton of nerves going, but I just tried playing the game within myself. Still, it is always in the back of your mind that how you perform is going to turn the outcome of the game. So I just did what I could, and things worked out fine. I am going to get out and take that same approach this year."


Entering his sophomore season as one of the Tigers' most touted talents, Landry said that he has put the ingredients together to what he sees as the perfect recipe for his success on the field.


"The key this year, for me, is just slowing it all down," he said. "Coming in last year I was in such a rush, and the summer really helped me to calm all that down. I try to critique myself and work on the things I need to work on, and then I just take all the feedback the coaches give me and put it into perspective and keep working hard."


The Baton Rouge-native points to Mainieri's coaching as the reason behind the strides he has made in such a short time.


"Coach is a great leader, and I am without a doubt way better than I was or thought I could be when I got here," Landry said. "Everything has a meaning, and he has taken me a long way. My improvement is paying off big time, and people can see it. We do the little things right around here, and the big things happen on their own."


Heading into the year carrying the nation's No. 1 ranking, Landry said that the Tigers are ready to pick up where they left off last spring.


"We are focused, and we don't have a big head right now with the rankings, because that isn't getting us to Omaha," he said. "We are out here working hard and realizing that we are a good ball club, so we are just trying to continue what we got going on.


"A lot of folks are worried about pitching, but we have some good arms and crafty guys that will make it happen," added Landry. "A couple of guys from my class and then some freshmen are ready to step up. If we can get a few good innings from each guy, then we will play superior defense behind them and be set. The ultimate goal is bringing home the gold, plain and simple."


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