By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Still processing the moment he’d waited so long for, Kramer Robertson’s mind couldn’t help but drift back to all the pain and disappointment that had paved the way.
Last year he watched helplessly as Coastal Carolina dogpiled on his position after the Tigers were walked off in heartbreaking fashion on their own field. That image seared itself into his mind, with a picture of it saved as the background of his phone to serve as a daily reminder.
The year before he’d watched LSU punch its ticket to the College World Series from the stands at Alex Box Stadium, left off the postseason roster entirely. Reduced to a spectator of the dream he’d had since he was a little boy.
Then it got worse.
Robertson was left home from the trip to Omaha. It wasn’t an easy decision for LSU coach Paul Mainieri, but the then sophomore infielder has missed the latter portion of the season with an injury, and Grayson Byrd had supplanted him as LSU’s utility infielder.
Told to pack his bags and go home on June 8, 2015 — he’ll never forget the date — the man who is now LSU’s unquestioned leader honestly wasn’t sure if he’d ever wear the purple and gold again as he made the drive back to Texas.
“I remember feeling like a failure looking back on my first two years here and I felt like I had let people down,” Robertson said. “There were two decisions I could’ve made. I could’ve made the easy decision and went somewhere else and see what happens with my career, or I could gut it out and come back here to prove to people that I can do it. I didn’t want to prove the people who said I couldn’t do it right by making the easy choice.”
All that pain and doubt made Sunday night all the sweeter.
Led by Robertson, who picked up three hits, scored three runs and drove in two more, LSU blasted Mississippi State 14-4 to punch its ticket to the College World Series.
He’d finally reached the mountaintop, and three rain delays didn’t dampen it one bit. The shortstop had waited years for this moment, what were couple extra hours?
“It’s not like I hadn’t waited long enough for this moment. We had to have a rain delay,” Robertson smiled, still soaking in the moment. “I waited my entire baseball career and life for that dogpile. So I could wait a little bit longer.”
It’s the moment that convinced Robertson and his double-play partner, Cole Freeman, to turn down more than $500,000 between them last summer to make one more run at the College World Series.
Along with Greg Deichmann and Jared Poche’, who also turned down pro ball, they came to be known as the ‘Fab Four.’ With the exception of Poche’, who helped anchor the 2015 trip, none of them had ever been to the College World Series.
Deichmann, like Robertson, was left off the postseason roster that year. Already sent to summer ball, he watched LSU topple UL-Lafayette that June on a TV hundreds of miles away. Freeman was still at Delgado Community College at the time.
That trio, the veteran backbone of this LSU lineup, got a sendoff in their final game at Alex Box Stadium that Hollywood couldn’t script.
With LSU leading 14-4 headed to the bottom of the ninth, Mainieri pulled them from the game. They walked off the field together to a standing ovation from the 6,000-or-so patrons who’d waited into the wee hours of the morning to see their Tigers celebrate.
“To experience that tonight,” Robertson began, tears of joy welling on the periphery of his eyes, “this is something special that I’ll cherish forever.”
There will be time to enjoy the view and savor the accomplishment, but as Robertson was quick to point out, there’s still one more mountain to climb.
Getting to this point was a pain-filled journey to a dream come true, but there’s still more work to do.
“This is not the end,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”