By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Astute observers of LSU this season have likely noticed that the ‘hitter’s huddle’ has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
The ritual had been a staple during Andy Cannizaro’s two seasons as LSU’s hitting coach. At least once a game the fiery assistant would gather all of his hitters outside the dugout for an in-game pep talk, particularly if things weren’t going well.
It appears the ‘hitter’s huddle’ went with him. Simply put, it’s not the style of Micah Gibbs, LSU’s first-year hitting instructor.
“Micah is really good in one-on-one situations with the hitters,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “The hitters love Micah. He doesn’t get all riled up. He’s very analytical. He’s very calm. He talks to them one on one and he gets it out of them.
“Every coach has their different style. Andy was more outgoing, gregarious … It was more visible the way he did it where Micah is more behind the scenes. He’s not really looking for attention for himself, if you know what I mean.”
Cannizaro left in November to take over as the head coach at Mississippi State. By a strange twist of fate the Tigers will take on Cannizaro’s Bulldogs in a three-game series starting Thursday night in Starkville with the SEC West title hanging in the balance.
How he left has become a central storyline in an already contentious rivalry between two of the SEC’s oldest baseball powerhouses. It’s not one that Mainieri had much interest in discussing as the Tigers departed Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re going to be coaching against each other, hopefully, for many years to come,” Mainieri said. “This is just the first time and obviously there’s a lot at stake. This isn’t about Andy Cannizaro versus Paul Mainieri. This is about Mississippi State University and Louisiana State University.
“I know people want to talk about it, but it’s not something I want to talk that much about because it’s really irrelevant at this point. There’s much more important stuff than who the two coaches are.”
Still, few LSU’s players, many of whom were recruited by Cannizaro, it’ll be a friendly reunion with an old friend before the bitter rivals square off. Every position player on the roster worked with him up until his sudden departure, and some say they’ve kept in touch.
“It’s probably going to be a little weird when we look across and see him over there,” Cole Freeman said. “But we’re excited to go up there and show him how much we’ve grown and, honestly, to see him. It’s been a while since we’ve all seen Andy. He was more than a coach. He was a friend.”
Perhaps that’s because, despite some early-season crowing from an impatient fan base, the Tigers’ offensive production hasn’t dipped in Gibbs’ first season as hitting coach.
LSU ranks second in the SEC in batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored, trailing only Kentucky. The Tigers have hit for a similar average (.292 this season versus .295 in 2016) and actually scored at a slightly better clip (6.55 runs/game in 2017 versus 6.45 runs/game in 2016).
There’s been a slight variance in how they’ve done so. LSU has already eclipsed last season’s home run total, ranking fourth in the SEC at 48. It’s coincided with a dip in stolen bases from 95 last season to 58 so far this season.
Players contend it’s a testament to the fact that contrasting styles can yield similarly productive results when it comes to something as subjective as hitting.
“Micah is a little more technical,” Freeman said. “Looking at videos and doing drills. He really analyzes your swing. Andy really keeps it simple and he’s more of a motivator than Micah is. Micah is more on the quiet side. It’s just two different approaches to hitting coaches, but both of them are great.”
“They’re both a little bit different in their own way,” Greg Deichmann added,” but Micah has been doing a great job with us this year. He picked up right where Andy left off.”