Bayou bylaws: LSU fans rule tailgate
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Before they know your name or you know theirs, Kent and Scott DeJean ask if you want a drink. Perhaps sensing hesitation from someone not quite sure what the selection includes so early in the morning from two guys wearing beads and who have plastic funnels prominently displayed behind them in a tent labeled "Evil Twins," they quickly add they have sodas.
All are welcome and all tastes satisfied when LSU fans set up their traveling roadshow. Other fans tailgate as something to do before a game. LSU fans use games as an excuse to tailgate.
"Cajuns had very difficult lives," Kent said of the forbearers whose culture still dominates life in Louisiana the same way it dominates his accent. "We believe in just enjoying life and having fun."
This is not what Saturday morning at the Women's College World Series typically looks or feels like. For one thing, there usually aren't mirror balls like the one suspended from the roof of the DeJeans' tent in one corner of the parking lot at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. But it's not just the props in this one tent, which also include canes topped with gaudy diamond-like knobs and a cooler booby-trapped with a fake rubber snake inside. Teams bring a lot of equipment with them to Oklahoma City, but LSU brought an entire state's culture wrapped up in a few dozen square feet of asphalt.
Saturday is the only time during the six or seven days of competition in Oklahoma City that games start before noon local time and, after the drama and late hours of winner's bracket games the night before, fans are usually slow to arrive and equally slow to wake up once they get settled. True to form, while another full house eventually filed in, the complex and surrounding parking lot were quiet at 8:30 in the morning, largely deserted so long before the gates opened. Quiet except for the party music coming from the corner of the premises where tents were set up next to each other near some of the only trees, and thus the only precious shade, in the entire parking lot. Fans of the Tigers start early and they know what they're doing.
"I think it's got to be Mardi Gras," said Brian Trosclair, father of LSU senior Cassie Trosclair and the unofficial mayor of the tailgate, charged with making sure everyone knew the where-what-when details. "When you go to the parade, you have to get there early. Everybody's just accustomed to 'Hey, let's go.' Grab a spot, get set up and wait for the parade. That's pretty much what we're doing."
A divorce lawyer and an LSU grad, Kent DeJean makes it to just about every major LSU sporting event with his brother, home and away. He had a divorce proceeding Thursday morning but settled by noon and drove with Scott to Oklahoma City. Both brothers joke at the good fortune of settling in time to make it for most of the weekend, and you almost wonder just how much later matters might have wrapped up had LSU not been in the World Series.
Everybody here has a story. There are parents and family of players milling about, but there are at least as many people whose connections are more purple and gold than blood. There is Billy Hicks, a high school coach and administrator from College Station, Texas, who hopped in his pickup as soon as his school's graduation ceremony was over and drove through the night to get to Oklahoma City in time to set up shop in the parking lot. The grill he brought is already churning out food; the graduation robes he didn't have time to drop off at home are balled up in the truck. Another booster who is in his fourth decade as a season-ticket holder for LSU football drove his RV from South Carolina after the Tigers won a super regional to reach the World Series. Former coach Yvette Girouard, the legend who retired at the end of last season, stands amidst the fans and notes with a smile that it's nice to be able to have a cold beer before a game.
They come because they know that like an embassy on foreign soil, part of Louisiana will be waiting for them.
Nick Torina, husband of LSU coach Beth Torina, was out amongst the revelers. A former college baseball pitcher at the University of Houston, where he met his future wife when she was an assistant with the softball team, he had friends who played baseball at LSU and knew all about the culture they were walking into when she took the job last year. She assured him her own time as a player at Florida had her sufficiently prepared. Yet even she has to recalibrate. There's simply nothing quite like it.
The corner of the parking lot in which the tailgate unfolds is awash in purple and yellow shirts, friends who saw each other just the night before toasting beverages and friends who haven't seen each other in weeks, months or even longer shaking hands and falling back into instant comradeship. But this is not a party that requires an invitation to attend. The only way a stranger can run afoul of the hospitality is to take less than a full plate and leave hungry.
Whenever the season ends, Trosclair's direct ties to the program will exit with his daughter. But whether in Baton Rouge or elsewhere, he'll still stir his "Troscla-laya" for anyone who shows up to partake.
"They're going to make us come back, and I'm going to miss it," Trosclair said. "What else am I going to do on the weekends? I've been doing it for how many years?"
As he prepared to make his way inside the stadium gate, Trosclair again extended an invitation to return for the party after the game. The tables full of food and smoking grills all around him seemingly suggested otherwise, but he made it clear that it was after the game when the real party started. It turned out the Tigers had reason to celebrate, a 1-0 win against South Florida extending the season to Saturday night, with the winning run scoring in fittingly swashbuckling fashion when Tigers outfielder A.J. Andrews tagged up and scored from third on a pop fly to shortstop.
But the LSU fans would have been out in the parking lot anyway. Wins and losses are what they go inside the stadium to see. What happens outside is about celebrating life with food and friends.
And maybe the beverage of your choice.