HOOVER, Ala. — Paul Mainieri usually relies on his gut and 36 years of coaching experience when it comes to making in-game decisions, but sometimes often ask a given player if they’re up to it before mulling a decision, and a display of self-confidence can go a long ways.
How many times has a competitor like Alex Lange or Zack Hess sworn that they still has something left in the tank? Too many too count. Mainieri places a great deal of value on the power of confidence and belief.
But there’s one thing we all know now isn’t part of his decision making process: consulting a fact checker.
Closer Todd Peterson was due up in the 12th inning because LSU had done so much maneuvering by that point it had lost its DH spot. Daniel Cabrera put LSU ahead 4-3 with an RBI single before Peterson came up, which allowed him to avoid being pinch hit for.
But Peterson wanted more. Mainieri initially instructed him to take three strikes, not get hurt and prepare to pitch the bottom of the inning. He’d done something similar when Jared Poche’ had to hit during his no-hit bid last season.
That all changed when South Carolina coach Mark Kingston went to the bullpen. It gave Peterson and Austin Bain, the patron saint of pitchers who rake, time to lobby the coach.
Mainieri asked Peterson if he’d been a good hitter in high school, as Bain was, since that was presumably the last time the sophomore had picked up a bat.
Peterson responded that he hit nukes in high school, a line Mainieri gleefully shared both on the SEC Network set and at the postgame press conference after Peterson began his own legend with a booming two-run double the provided the winning runs in a 6-4 win over South Carolina to stave off elimination.
This is where things get good. Reporters start to probe Peterson about when his last meaningful at-bat occurred and other details that make for fun additions to stories such as this one.
After a follow-up question or two, Peterson decided to let the cat out of the bag about that nukes he supposedly hit in high school: they occurred in batting practice.
That produced one of the great back-and-fourths this reporter has ever witnesses on a podium setting. It’s been transcribed in full for your enjoyment.
Reporter: Todd, when was your last actual at-bat before today?
Todd Peterson: High school I guess. *two second pause* Coach, I’m going to be honest, I didn’t hit in high school.
Paul Mainieri: What?!?
Peterson: I took BP a couple times, and I did hit nukes, I’ll tell you that.
Mainieri: You didn’t even hit in games in high school?
Peterson: No…. But I guess it paid off.
Mainieri: So you lied to me?
Peterson: Coach, I wanted to swing.
Mainieri: Thank you for lying. (laughter)
And so goes the story of Todd Peterson’s nuclear bluff for the ages. Although it might’ve ended up more like the Hoover Missile Crisis had Peterson hurt himself swinging out of his shoes or if he didn’t get a hit and Mainieri learned the truth.
Setting South Carolina aside, everyone present in the Hoover Met on Thursday evening is and will always be grateful for Peterson’s bit of deception.
It had been another long day at the ballpark for all involved, and the sight of a gangly pitcher taking vicious hacks — not to mention smoking a two-run double — makes the slogging weather delays and generally glacial pace of play more worth it.
Turns out it was exhilarating enough to transcend traditional SEC West rivalries.
Both Texas A&M and Auburn were on respective sides of the Hoover Met waiting to finally play their winner’s bracket game. Everyone took notice when Peterson stepped up to the plate with a bat, and both sets of rival players were hollering with joy when he laced that double off the base of the wall.
Auburn coach Butch Thompson approach Mainieri between games and let him know how displeased he was with him.
Why? Here’s how Thompson explained himself.
“He said, ‘Now all of my pitchers think that they can hit,’” Mainieri recounted. “When Peterson went up to the plate, they were apparently all grouped together yelling at me to let him swing. And when he hit the wall, even though it’s a rival school, Butch said they all jumped up and started cheering madly for Todd Peterson.”
The moment was made particularly special for Peterson by the fact that his father, Hans, was in attendance. It completed a redemptive week in Hoover that started with a six-out save on Tuesday against Mississippi State.
Peterson effectively changed his narrative from the guy who got himself suspended the night before he was tapped to start the SEC Tournament opener to the hero in two do-or-die games. Mainieri hopes these are just the opening flurry of all the great things Peterson will do at LSU and beyond.
“I told him ‘I hope this inspires how you live you live your life now. You looked like a big leaguer on the mound. You have a bright future out ahead of you, so take care of yourself,'” Mainieri shared. “Have some discipline in your life and you’re going to reap the benefits. Sometimes, something like this can turn a kid’s life around.”