The LSU Tigers are once again back in the hunt for Omaha.
Coming off a huge series sweep of Auburn this past weekend, the Tigers sit atop the SEC West heading into this weekend’s bout with Mississippi State. It’s a series that decides the division.
While it may seem like business as usual for LSU, this season had a different tone to it.
Much has been made of the the four MLB Draft picks that put their big league dreams on hold to chase one last championship. Seniors Jared Poche’, Kramer Robertson, Cole Freeman and draft-eligible junior Greg Deichmann decided to return, poised to make a last run at Omaha.
“We all had a choice to make last June, because we all had the opportunity to go pretty decently in the draft and to have a good start to our minor league careers,” Deichmann said. “I don’t think any of us really had enough of an interest at that point. On top of that the program at LSU — the history, the winning atmosphere and tradition — it was a lot to pass up. We had one more chance to come back and have a shot at this thing.
“We were all in a contact throughout the process. My decision was the easiest, being my junior year. All four of us coming back with a core group of guys, we felt we had a really strong opportunity to be where we are at this point and hopefully continue into the postseason. We expressed that issue to each other. When one or two of us started to come back, it helped the others, too.”
While Deichmann was excited for he and his fellow teammates to start their chase for the championship, his Opening Day almost didn’t happen. Deichmann took a fastball off the head in a scrimmage, breaking three cheekbones in his face.
Having already lost Bryce Jordan to season-ending injury, Deichmann knew he needed to get back in the lineup.
“At the point that it happened, I was a little confused,” Deichmann said. “I got hit in the face with a pitch for the first time in my life. Coach [Paul] Mainieri comes up to me and asks, 'have you always had that dent in your face?’ I was like this is serious.
“It sounded like I was going to be out Opening Day and maybe the first week. Then we met this great doctor Hugo St. Hilaire, and he said I could be out for only 48 hours. So, it all happened too quickly for me to get hesitant [at the plate], although Nick Bush did buzz me that first Thursday night back. I had to step out the box to collect myself. Then I hit a home run in my first at bat back. You couldn't have written a story any better.”
In what seemed an act of superhuman strength, Deichmann responded to the experience unlike any other. He homered in three of his first five games of the season, including a moonshot that still may not have landed. While the 6-2 lefty slugger has long been known for big home runs, this one was the biggest. Deichmann blasted a ball an estimated 486 feet in a Feb. 22 game against Hofstra, leaving even his own teammates in awe.
Furthest ball I've ever seen hit in person...at any level https://t.co/rRWo2TtYoZ— Kramer Robertson (@KramerR3) February 23, 2017
“It was a couple of weeks into the season,” Deichmann said. “I was on a roll, feeling good with my swing, locked in and seeing it well. It was one of those pitches that just came in, I saw it right out of his hand. It almost seemed like he put it right on a tee for me. That’s the best swing I ever put on the ball.
“When it left the bat, as hard as it left the bat and the angle it left the bat, I was like, 'wow, the might be an intimidator shot, that might hit the big billboard in right'. It kept going and going and sure enough it cleared it. I didn't think it had that much juice. That was a crazy night. That’s one of the home runs I’ll remember forever when it got plastered all over Twitter and everything. That was a fun night and a fun swing."
While Brent Rooker of Mississippi State has gotten a lot of attention for his offensive output in the SEC, Deichmann has been every bit as important to the Tigers success, making this weekend's match up of super sluggers even more enticing. Batting in the cleanup spot in the heart of the LSU lineup, Deichmann is batting .318 with a .408 on-base percentage. He's driven in 60, while his 17 home runs rank in the top 10 of Division I.
He has also posted a nearly perfect .992 fielding percentage. This is more impressive when it comes at a position he didn’t play a single game in his career.
“I’m not really a stranger to position change," Deichmann said. "I was a shortstop in high school. Coach Mainieri wanted me to move to third base, but I got hurt my freshman year. My sophomore year I worked at third, second and first. There wasn’t really a spot for me, because I hadn’t proven myself on defense up to that point, my offense always carried me.
“First base didn’t really suit me too well. Coach approached with the idea [of right field] starting with going to summer ball. I started off slow, just shagging the ball. It’s the one position that I really felt comfortable and natural at throughout my career. It’s been a decent adjustment, but that’s where I feel like I belong and moving forward. I have the speed, the arm and the corners are made for power bats.”
LSU is right amid the hunt, as they are almost always expected to be. Despite the wins, the home runs and the accolades, Deichmann has gained a lot more this season. He's learned what it means to be an LSU Tiger, to be part of a program that battles in the powerful SEC, and has history on its side.
While his baseball days are far from over, his time as an NCAA player is coming to an end. Deichmann made sure he took it all in one last time.
“It’s a humbling experience," Deichmann said of being a Tiger. "My freshman year I got hurt. I didn’t get to experience what LSU baseball really was. Coming back my sophomore year, learning what the SEC is all about, getting some big hits and having some failure, it was good experience.
“This year I’ve been able to completely embrace it all. Everyday when I put on my jersey, I look at the No. 7 and the name Deichmann across the back and I think to myself, 'I remember when I was in high school just trying to make varsity.’ It’s cool, just trying to take a step back and realize how colorful the purple and the gold actually are. The noise of the crowd, the atmosphere. I’ve been trying to do that all year, just soak it all in. It is my last run at this thing, and it’s been a great three years, but I’d like to end this thing with a bang.”