No one more deserving than LSU’s Mahtook

Dierdre A. Badeaux
June 14, 2011
Thursday, June 16
June 16, 2011
Dierdre A. Badeaux
June 14, 2011
Thursday, June 16
June 16, 2011

As a journalist, I have to live most of my life with a set of black and white blinders over my eyes when it comes to covering the world of sports.

With these colorless shades, I’ve learned to displace my rooting interests as best I can for the sake of the truth and have learned to tell both sides of the story, even if that means my own colors of choice (silver and blue and purple and gold) get the short end of the journalistic stick in a particular story.

Right now, I’m about to remove those blinders and give some credit where credit is due and pat a former classmate of mine on the back for a job well done.

Every year, I sit down and watch the MLB Draft with my fingers crossed.

I watch and cringe each time a selection is made, hoping that LSU’s players aren’t selected, which would thus mean that they would return to school and continue their collegiate careers.

That’s selfish of me, I know, but I suspect any loyal Tiger alum would do the same, much like Ole Miss, Alabama, Florida or Texas fans probably share similar rituals across the country.

But this year, the first time I heard a Tiger called, I didn’t cringe, I just smiled.

Because there is no one more deserving of success in life than the 31st pick of this year’s MLB draft, LSU outfielder Mikie Mahtook.

On the field, Mahtook is everything you want in a player.

The guy plays the game like he’s on the football field, diving all over the diamond with reckless abandon, while also pounding his chest with fury like a warrior on a battlefield every time he makes a positive impact.

Who can forget all of those memorable hits Mahtook had in the 2009 season? I don’t know what’s more enduring, the hits, their impact, or the fact that TV cameras would show an 18-year-old college freshman beating the hell out of his chest on the base path after it happened. The guy just has endless energy and can motivate a snail on downers to do jumping jacks.

Heck, you probably already know the story, but I’ll tell it to you again anyway. Mahtook has that football, high-energy mentality, in part because he is a football player at heart, serving as an All-State quarterback at St. Thomas More High School in his native Lafayette. LSU legend has it that Mahtook even contemplated trying out for the Tigers’ football team as a walk-on, before opting against it in his freshman year and sticking with baseball.

Aggression is one thing, talent is another, and it’s easy to see why the outfielder chose baseball.

Mahtook is a five-tool player who can hit for average and power, run the bases and field his position.

Aluminum bats, wooden bats are no difference to the kid, this guy can swing a pine needle and hit .300.

With new, watered down bats in college baseball, Mahtook didn’t miss a beat and actually had his best statistical season with the hollowed out sticks, hitting for an SEC-best .383 average with 14 home runs and 56 RBI.

He does all of these things while playing the game the right way, serving as a good leader for his younger teammates and obeying his coach’s wishes with a smile, even if that meant laying down a bunt or being asked to hit a baseball to the right side of the infield to advance a runner.

To journalists like myself, Mahtook is always honest and forthright about his successes, answering every question clearly, while always following ‘yes or no’ questions with a sir or ma’am.

The guy just has no major glaring character flaws.

It is Mahtook’s journey off the field that takes him from a great player to a great role model.

Mahtook’s father, former LSU football player Mike Mahtook, died of cardiomyopathy in 1994 at the age of 32.

At the time, Mikie was just 4 years old.

Growing up predominantly without his father, Mikie drew inspiration from his mother, Mary Ann Mahtook, and his uncles, Robbie and Ronnie Mahtook, who both played collegiate football.

With that inspiration, Mikie Mahtook landed at LSU and became vital cog in the Tigers’ arsenal in his freshman season.

Memorable images of that season’s College World Series showed Mikie’s mother sitting with his twin sisters and both uncles close behind, smiling, because Mahtook was about to become a national champion.

At the end of his sophomore season, those smiles were flipped around, as the Mahtook family’s strength was tested again.

Mikie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of the 2010 season, which left the player wondering if he’d lose both of his parents before age 21.

Time passed and, fortunately, chemotherapy has since made Mary Ann Mahtook cancer-free and healthy, but Mahtook never has, nor ever will use any of the challenges he’s faced in life as an excuse. Because as it’s often been said, when you’re a winner, failure’s not an option.

Mikie Mahtook is just that, a survivor, a winner and now a first-round draft pick.

Don’t be surprised if in a few years, we’re adding an MLB All-Star to that list, either.

Go get ’em, young man. It’s now your time to shine.

You once said that it was impossible for someone to love LSU as much as you do. Now, it’s our turn to say that we love you, too. The Tampa Bay Rays just got a heck of a player, and an even better man.