By Trey Mongrue
A few hours before the start of LSU’s double-header with Boston College last Friday, coach Paul Mainieri and first-year hitting coach Andy Cannizaro walked out to Alex Box Stadium and immediately noticed the strong winds violently whipping the center field flags towards left field.
Discussing the lineup for the afternoon game, Cannizaro figured that senior Jared Foster’s bat could be advantageous at the plate with this weather and relayed that idea to Mainieri. The LSU coach agreed, but had already promised Jake Fraley the start in left field following a good showing at practice from the sophomore the day before.
Instead, Mainieri slotted Foster into the lineup for the second game of the night. Following the Tigers’ 8-3 in game one, Foster, who was none the wiser that Mainieri and Cannizaro’s conversation had taken place, took a peak at the game two lineup card and not only saw his name listed, but in a fairly foreign location.
“It’s a big ball being thrown at me right now. It’s nice to see and hopefully it stays that way for a while.”
– LSU outfielder Jared Foster
– LSU outfielder Jared Foster
He was hitting leadoff.
“It’s been a while since I hit leadoff,” said Foster, one of just two seniors on the LSU roster that have spent their entire collegiate career with the Tigers. “But when I saw it, I was comfortable with it.”
Most teams like for their leadoff hitters to open the game by taking a few pitches to get a read on the opposing pitcher. However, if there is one pitch that Foster loves to see when he is at the plate, it’s the elevated fastball that is just enough inside for him to turn on.
That was the exact pitch that Boston College pitcher Jeff Burke served up to open the at-bat and Foster made sure he wasn’t missing it. He drilled a hard line drive that ate up BC left fielder Logan Hoggarth and rolled to the wall for a lead off triple.
“It felt good,” Foster said of his first career triple. “It was good to do that to get the momentum going early and get something started.”
“I was just hoping something good would happen,” Mainieri said of placing Foster in the lineup. “And it did.”
Sliding into third, simply for the fun of it, Foster quickly popped up, turned toward the LSU dugout and unleashed a scream while flexing his arms.
It fell directly in line with the approach that Foster had taken on for this season.
“I’m just having fun,” he said, cracking a smile. “Just going up there with a good attitude, get a few hits, you know, fun.”
He would later add a RBI double in the fifth inning and, in his final at-bat, was even given the sign to swing away on a 3-0 count. All in all, it was a fun night at the park for the senior who was a catalyst in the Tigers’ 7-4 win.
After another successful game in the leadoff spot a day later in LSU’s 16-2 win to secure the sweep over the Eagles, Foster is now leading the Tigers with .545 batting average. With his recent performances, he appears to have the upper hand on Fraley and Chris Sciambra for the starting left field job that Mainieri has described as a revolving door.
“It’s a big ball being thrown at me right now,” he said. “It’s nice to see and hopefully it stays that way for a while.”
An everyday starting job would be a welcomed change of pace for Foster at this point.
Sure, he has had his moments, whether it was an infield walk-off season to beat Arkansas as a freshman, throwing a missile from right field to gun down a tagging Vanderbilt runner at home in the 2013 SEC Championship Game, or a defy-all-laws-of-physics catch at Texas A&M last season.
However, he has never been able to put it all together for a long enough period of time to be an everyday player.
“I never knew when I was going to play,” Foster recalled. “It almost kind of keeps you more loose in a way because you really don’t know what to expect.”
It appeared that Foster finally had his coveted starting role at the beginning of last year when Mainieri opened the season with him as the Tigers’ starting right field and clean up hitter.
That lasted all of three games when he went hitless in his first 12 at-bats and he finished the season with just a seven total hits.
“Yeah, it was pretty bad,” Foster can now say with a laugh.
But that wasn’t even rock bottom for Foster in 2014.
In the fall, he joined the LSU football team as a backup quarterback, a position he held as a freshman in 2011 but relinquished soon after to focus solely on baseball. However, a fractured foot ended that before it could really even start and, to make matters worse, kept him out of fall baseball practice.
It during the recovery time that Foster simply decided to just chill-out and have some fun. When he returned to the baseball team for the spring, his teammates quickly noticed that something changed.”
“Jared just came in with a different mindset,” said junior shortstop Alex Bregman. “He had that foot injury that he had to deal with, but once he stepped back in the spring, you would just see him working so hard, but having fun.”
And so here Foster is now, playing serious baseball, all the while not taking himself too seriously.
Of course he would like to continue to start in left field and hit at the top of the order every game. But, if he doesn’t, so what? Right now, he just wants to make sure that he can keep finding good pitches to hit.
“I’m just so chilled out this year and looking at things in a different way,” explained Foster. “Last year, I was pressing too much and it wasn’t fun. Right now, it feels good to go up there and be relaxed.”
Mainieri isn’t ready to commit to Foster as an everyday starter just yet, but he’s close.
“I’m not going to lock myself in and say this guy will definitely be our lead off hitter,” said Mainieri. “But obviously he’s stepping up and earning some significant playing time.”
However, Bregman seems to be a little more upfront about it.
“If Jared keeps squaring up the ball like he is now,” he said, “then he’s going to be a very special player for us this year.”