The LSU baseball starting lineup will be unfamiliar to most fans when the Tigers open their season on Feb. 19, against Cincinnati at Alex Box Stadium.
The lone familiar face: junior outfielder Jake Fraley, the only returning starter from LSU’s 2015 College World Series squad.
“The only thing that is different is, it’s not like freshman year where nobody knows who Jake Fraley is from Delaware,” Fraley said about his new leadership role on the LSU baseball team.
Even though as a player he’s the leader by default, there’s not a better person to lead than No. 8.
Former LSU All-American shortstop Alex Bregman passed down the honorary No. 8 jersey to Jake Fraley, following last season. No longer will Fraley wear No. 23, and even he has to remind himself that he’s no longer No. 23.
No. 23 is an iconic number in basketball, and legends such as Pete Maravich and Michael Jordan have donned it, but on the LSU baseball team No. 8 is your captain. Fraley joins the ranks of Mikie Mahtook, Mason Katz and Bregman to wear the honorary number in years past.
“It’s an honor and a blessing,” Fraley said. “Anybody knows that. You look at those players and what they did and to be able to wear that uniform, and I have the opportunity to do that now. To give you a little bit of perspective, it is an honor and I’m so respected for it and respect those guys for what they did.”
With the LSU baseball season opener just around the corner, the adrenaline of being surrounded by the greatest fans in college baseball can be overwhelming, but Fraley is always open to giving advice to the newcomers.
“You get so excited,” Fraley said. “12,000 fans, putting on that LSU uniform you’ve dreamed about your whole life and seeing your name on the back of the jersey.”
Fraley remembers what it was like as a freshman, getting caught up in the moment and wants the new LSU players to understand now that it’s ok to have games where they underwhelm. They need to be prepared for that because the easier it will be to get over it and move on. After all it’s a part of baseball.
Baseball is the only sport where you can constantly fail and still succeed. Fraley hit .307 last season and batted .387 in LSU’s eight NCAA Tournament games last postseason. He was LSU’s leading hitter in the NCAA Tournament, which helped him receive 2016 third-team preseason All-America recognition.
With the departure of so many players after the 2015 season and the early exit out of the College World Series, it’s easy to forget how great Fraley’s postseason truly was. Fraley hit two doubles, one triple and one homer and recorded five RBIs, seven runs and four steals.
Fraley is a complete player and is extremely capable of not only leading this team at the plate, but in center field as well. Just three years ago Fraley was playing center field in high school, and he’s got the speed required of the position after ranking No. 6 in the SEC in stolen bases last season, with 23 steals in 29 attempts.
The Delaware native is hungry to get back to Omaha this year and win that final game. Fraley acknowledged getting to the College World Series is the hardest thing because while you celebrate winning the super regional and making it to Omaha, you need to quickly revert back to your mindset when the postseason first started about winning the last game.
Getting to Omaha is just part of the process, and the job is still not done. It’s about taking the season one game at a time, which will be the approach with this season with the talented group of many first year starters.
Fraley’s favorite memory of his LSU baseball career was Chris Sciambra’s walk-off solo homer to the right field bleachers in game one of last year’s Super Regional against UL-Lafayette.
“I was actually getting ready to put my stuff on (batting gear in the dugout), and I had my head turned and didn’t even see the swing, I just heard it,” Fraley said. “And as soon as I heard it, I turned around and I knew. And, you see Sciambra put his hand up, so you know he knew it was gone. I just get chills still thinking about it.”
LSU was in those Super Regional games thanks to Fraley and pitchers Alex Lange and Jared Poche’. Fraley hit a two run homer and added another RBI in game one, while Lange only allowed three earned runs and Poche only allowed one earned run in their respected starts.
The No. 5 ranked Tigers begin their journey to add the year “2016” to “The Intimidator” billboard in right field and LSU’s seventh baseball national championship on Feb. 19 against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Alex Box Stadium.
Follow Andrew Mongrue on Twitter @Andrew_Mongrue.