Mikie Mahtook Takes A Football Mentality Onto Baseball Field
BATON ROUGE—Mikie Mahtook wanted some extra cuts before practice.
It's not that the Louisiana State junior center fielder needed them. He is hitting .370/.482/.691 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs heading into the final week of the regular season.
Nonetheless, Mahtook was working a bit of frustration out as he rotated on each pitch with a fluid swing, spraying balls all over Alex Box Stadium. By the time he grabbed a seat in the dugout, Mahtook found himself chatting about a reality he never envisioned—a short ending to what might be his final college season.
LSU (now 33-19, 11-16 in the SEC) was on the brink of missing the eight-team cut for the SEC tournament for the first time since 2007. The Tigers' Ratings Percentage Index (27th in the NCAA's official report last week) still gave them a shot at making regionals, but LSU and Mahtook were mired in uncertainty.
It's yet another changeup for Mahtook.
Mahtook was the belle of the ball as a freshman at the 2009 College World Series. He had already racked up SEC tournament MVP honors heading into Omaha, where he banged out a .296 batting average to help the Tigers secure the national title. He homered against Arkansas in the second game and delivered the game-winning single in the top of the 11th inning in the final against Texas.
"Here at LSU, the expectations are so high," Mahtook said. "The season is never complete until you reach the postseason and have your opportunity to make a run. So just being satisfied personally with a good season and not making the tournament isn't what I'm all about, and that's not what I'm going to be happy with."
Not Following The Script
Sometimes things just don't work out the way they are planned.
If Mahtook were to follow a script, he would have headed to LSU to play football. His father Mike Sr. (1979-82) and uncle Robbie (1976-79) played linebacker for the Tigers. Mahtook was following in their footsteps, playing quarterback in high school for St. Thomas More, about an hour west of Baton Rouge. But Mahtook turned from football after breaking his arm his junior year. He never lost the mentality, however.
"I wear my emotions on my sleeves and I like to play the game hard, and I get excited and get pumped up and I don't mind showing it," Mahtook said. "I feel when I do that after a big moment or after something happens on our team, it's a big charge for our team and they all feed off of that."
That trait has always stood out.
"I just remembered seeing him in the cage (in 2009) and that's when I really noticed he had good talent and was special," former teammate and current Blue Jays farmhand Ryan Schimpf said. "I was thinking, we've got to try to find a way to get him on the field."
Mahtook won hearts by playing the game with abandon.
"All of the sudden he brought that sort of football player mentality to the game where he plays 100 miles an hour with his hair on fire, he was diving for balls, he was running the bases hard and playing with a lot of emotion plus playing well," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
It plays well in Alex Box, where Mahtook has one of the largest cheering sections. There is one notable absence. Mike Sr. died of heart disease in 1994. Mahtook was 4, left with fuzzy memories complemented by family lore about his father.
"The reality is he had to deal with something most people never have to deal with," Mainieri said. "He's handled it because he has a wonderful family. His mother is a saint. He's sisters are awesome. They've made the best of a difficult situation. I know his dad would be proud of him if he were here right now watching him."
His family has cheered him on as he moved from a raw two-sport athlete into a likely first-round pick.
"I worried a little bit about him going into the season because everyone knew there was a lot of pressure on him," Mainieri said. "It was his draft year, he was now a veteran. He was the best player on the team and he's so emotional that the emotion can be really good when you are doing well, but if you start off slowly it can have the reverse effect. Fortunately he hit four home runs the first weekend of the season (against Wake Forest), got himself off to a good start so he never really felt the pressure, he felt confident right away so that was a good thing. That's really kind of carried over the whole year."