The LSU Tiger baseball team has won four national championships over the last eight years. They never rebuild. They reload.
By Greg Shepard
Published: Spring 1999
The Tigers have appeared in the College World Series seven times already this decade. They have produced 15 All-Americans and 15 draft selections in the first five rounds during this same time period.
Alex Box Stadium seats seven thousand and they usually are tops in the nation in attendance with over 200,000 in seasonal attendance. LSU has produced 20 big-leaguers since 1985 including Albert Belle (White Sox) and Chad Ogea (Indians). Skip Bertman is a five-time National Coach of the Year recipient. The LSU Tigers: The Program of the Decade!
“I have always believed,” said Coach Bertman, “that anything you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must, absolutely must, come to pass.” He also believes that strength and conditioning is important for every sport and that includes football. “I am an ex-football coach so I know the value of strength and conditioning. If you are bigger, faster and stronger, you will be a better baseball player.
“My position is not at all unusual. All eight teams of last year's College World Series lift weights and condition. If you don't nowadays, I don't see how you can compete. Colleges have an advantage over high schools because we all have strength coaches. Football coaches are the best coaches because they have developed an eye for organization and detail. A baseball coach who has had some football coaching experience has an advantage.”
Skip Bertman has been the LSU head coach since 1984. In that time, he has made ten College World Series appearances which include ten regional titles and four national championships. His teams have earned seven SEC championships, five SEC tournament titles, six SEC Western Division championships including eight 50-win seasons and four other 45-plus win years. In addition, Coach Bertman has personally given over 1,000 clinics for youth league coaches and players. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters and one granddaughter. Only four more girls to go and he can start a girls' softball team.
The head strength and conditioning coach for LSU baseball is Curtis Tsuruda who was hired in 1997. Coach Bertman also has three baseball assistants: Jim Schwanke, Dan Canevari and Bill Franques. Tsuruda also inherited a brand new 9,700 square foot weight room in Tiger Stadium. He stated, “We do more Squats than any other sport because the game of baseball is played so much with the legs. We are known for our leg size.” Before coming to LSU, Coach Tsuruda graduated from the University of Hawaii, coached at two different high schools and then was the strength coach for the Rainbows; first, as an assistant in 1992 and then head coach in 1995. He works very closely with Shawn Eddy the trainer in charge of LSU baseball. “We have less injuries because of our strength and conditioning program,” reports Eddy. We have only had two hamstring injuries in the last two years and those were only about a week or so out of action.”
Coach Schwanke believes, “all the homeruns being hit are the result of a combination of factors: First, players are playing with lighter bats. For example, Ken Griffey plays with a 31-ounce bat. Also, metal bats have a larger sweet spot. Then your increased strength just multiplies everything.
“Weight training is essential for strength building in baseball but it is also mandatory for discipline and self esteem. His whole coaching staff believes that lifting is vital for baseball. Free weights are especially beneficial. There is no doubt a knowledgeable strength coach is a tremendous asset to any team.
“Strong legs are important in all sports but especially in baseball. A pitcher must utilize power, balance, and body control. Every player has to be ready about 150 times per game. It's all about improvement but you must put together a total program. Last season's All-American Eddie Furniss was drafted 14th and then after an extensive program of strength building and losing body fat, he was drafted in the 4th round.” Incidentally, Coach Schwanke has authored an excellent book called “BLAST: Hitting System Manual.” To order just call 1-504-761-1529.
Two players exemplify LSU Tiger baseball: Brad Cresse a 6-3, 220-pound catcher and Brandon Bowe a 6-3, 230-pound pitcher. Brandon, a transfer from Sacramento City Community College, had a 6-3 record last season for the Tigers. He weighed only 198 in junior college and threw between 83 and 84 miles per hour. Brandon beamed, “My Squat went from just doing the bar to 455 pounds and my Bench from 145 to doing 230 pounds for easy reps. But, what was really important, my pitching increased to between 88 and 89 miles per hour.” Brandon lettered for four years as a pitcher and outfielder at Tokay High School in Lodi, California. He was a first team All Bay Conference and All Area player as a sophomore while leading his team to the SIAA Championship.
Brad appeared in 45 games as a true freshman in 1997 with 28 starts as a catcher. Last season he led LSU in homeruns (29) and runs batted in (90). Brad attended Marina High School in California where he lettered three years as a catcher. As a senior, he hit .445 with 11 doubles, 12 homeruns and 30 RBIs. Brad was the Orange County MVP as a junior. His father works as the bullpen coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Brad, is a Kinesiology major and Benches 290 pounds.
If Brad were a high school baseball coach, he would have his team aggressively lift weights. “We are dominate at LSU because we lift. Our baseball coaches believe in it. They even come down to watch us. They check in.”
“Without our strength and conditioning program,” asserts Brandon, “we would be a mediocre baseball team. If you miss a weight workout, it is like missing a practice. You are not going to get away with it. It would ruin the fabric of the team if we were not committed, dedicated and required to weight train.”
“You need to do your flexibility workout,” advised Brad. “The theory that weights tighten you up is a myth. It does nothing but good if you do it the right way.”
“For pitchers not to lift is a crock,” said Brandon. “I work my legs. I know that's where it's at. And, I don't go crazy on the bench.”
Brad continued, “You must be committed and have a desire to make your goal. Set your goals high.” Brandon added. “It will take will and determination. You can't be afraid to lose. You can't go out scared. Just be determined to mow 'em down.”
Last season, the LSU Tiger baseball team did not do that well in the SEC tournament. The team said not to worry about it. Regionals were what was important for the national championship. They hit 20 homeruns in four games to win regionals! That was a record. Brandon was selected to the All-Tournament NCAA South Two Regional Team. They hit 17 homeruns in the College World Series which tied the record while finishing third. Brad was selected as a First Team All-American and led the SEC in homeruns and RBI's.
Brandon seemed so squared away during our interview, I was surprised to hear him say, “I made some bad choices in high school. I got kicked out of school my senior year. But, I did some real soul searching. I realized God gave me some talent and I wasn't supposed to waste it. I got my life back together, went to junior college and then on to LSU.”
“I never miss class now. I turn in my assignments on time. I don't drink, or chew, I don't think alcohol and tobacco are part of baseball or life. At seventeen I never would have said that. My brain wasn't on the right path.” Brandon is, not surprisingly, majoring in philosophy and religious studies. He plans on getting a Masters Degree with a goal of teaching and coaching at a junior college. Further goals include going after a Ph.D. and becoming a university coach.
“I might play pro ball if it happens,” philosophies Brandon. “Life is so unsure, so you keep movin' for