When your path to where you want to go has been diverted so often, the memorable stops along the way are cause for a little bit of pause and celebration.
So, as much as LSU pitcher Ryan Eades will allow himself to, he’s soaking in this week and what it means.
What it means as a look back at how Eades got to this point and a guideline to follow for a very promising future.
Eades’ baseball career arc reaches an impressive milestone Friday when he gets the start for the West in the prestigious Cape Cod League All-Star Game at Fenway Park. CSS will carry a local broadcast starting at 6 p.m.
“Just coming out here, my goal for the summer was just to make the all-star team,” said Eades, who is 3-0 for the Bourne (Mass.) Braves with 23 strikeouts, only seven walks a 0.86 ERA. “But what I wanted to accomplish first was to become a better pitcher overall. I wanted to develop a changeup, get my arm in better shape and learn the things I need to know to be able to pitch as well as I can in the SEC. I think all that’s happened.”
Hard to argue considering how Eades has dominated CCL hitters.
Although Eades has operated under a 75-pitch limit at LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s request, Eades has carved a spot as one of the top pitchers in what is regarded as the best summer wood-bat league for college players in the country.
As a freshman last spring, Eades was brought along at a similar slow pace because he missed the 2010 season as a pitcher with a shoulder injury. After working as a middle reliever for the first two months of the season, Eades blossomed into a reliable starter with six starts in the final five weeks – the final two against SEC foes Tennessee and Mississippi State.
In those six starts, Eades allowed 15 runs in 28.1 innings, struck out 17 and walked nine. More importantly, though, he showed some stamina and the ability to pitch out of trouble to provide a segue into the summer season.
“Late last season we saw a little more life in his fastball,” Mainieri said. “He got into the rotation those last two weekends of the SEC and really showed me something. I would’ve been more surprised had he not thrown well in summer ball because he was throwing well when our season ended.
“I think he’s going to be a mainstay on our staff for the next two seasons, so this summer is obviously encouraging.”
That staff features plenty of young company for Eades. In his final two starts last season, Eades joined fellow freshmen Kurt McCune and Kevin Gausman in the SEC weekend rotation.
McCune was the surprise of the LSU pitching staff with a 7-3 record and 3.31 ERA. Gausman was solid in his debut, although a handful of tough-luck losses led to a 5-6 record despite a 3.51 ERA and 86 Ks.
Now those two and Eades will all vie for the three weekend starting spots, along with incoming freshmen Aaron Nola and Cody Glenn.
“Each outing since I’ve been here, I feel like I’ve gotten a little better,” Eades said. “I feel a while lot more confortable now. I’m very confident I can be in that mix with Kurt and Kevin next season. I want to go into the fall and let this carry over and see what happens.”
Mainieri said the battle for the weekend spots – namely the Friday-night spot – will be typical of what he expects to be a spirited fall with a team trying to erase the disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament.
“I think it’s going to be a real healthy competition among those three guys and that’s what we need,” Mainieri said. “I don’t think that hurts anybody. The big question might be ‘Who’s going to be the Friday night guy,’ but whoever pitches on Saturday and Sunday, those games are just as important.”
As eager as Eades is to challenge his two fellow starters for spots on the weekend totem pole, he’s quick to credit them for his emergence.
McCune and Gausman were weekend starters all last season, giving Eades a blueprint to follow.
“They were successful because they kept the ball down, had good command of their fastball and were able to locate their offspeed pitches,” Eades said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do this summer and it’s really helped me become a better pitcher.”
Eades and all the young pitchers will start from square one with new pitching coach Alan Dunn.
In fact, Mainieri said Eades’ untapped potential and his comeback from the shoulder problem were major facets of his decision to search the professional ranks for a new pitching coach.
“When I went searching for a pitching coach, I had Ryan Eades in mind,” Mainieri said. “That was what I wanted really. I wanted somebody who had the background and experience to work with power arms, somebody who could help with mechanics.”
Dunn has traversed the country this summer to watch current LSU pitchers and incoming freshmen, so he hasn’t gotten a chance to sit down with Eades yet.
That’s a meeting the former Northshore-Slidell star is eagerly anticipating.
“I’m very anxious to work with Coach Dunn,” Eades said. “He’s been around it all and he’s been at the highest levels. I’ve heard nothing but great things about him. I really think he’ll help bring out my full potential.”
Around the horn
• Mainieri said Glenn is “99.9% sure” he’ll be on campus next month when freshmen arrive for the school year. The 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher from the Houston area was drafted by Toronto in the 15th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft.
“He told me ‘I’ve got my heart set in going to LSU,’ ” Mainieri said.
• The only other remaining incoming freshman who was drafted and hasn’t signed or reaffirmed his commitment is Jake Cave, and he likely won’t wind up at LSU.
Cave is hitting .344 with 16 RBIs for the Peninsula Pilots in the Coastal Plains League this summer despite never having seen college pitching before. A sixth-round pick by the New York Yankees, Cave is slated to make a decision this weekend, Mainieri said.
The Yankees signed their first-round pick for $750,000 and Mainieri said he expects Cave to command -- and receive -- more than that.
"I don't anticipate him being here," Mainieri said.
Should Cave surprise Mainieri, he would come to LSU as both an outfielder and a left-handed pitcher.
• Outfielder Trey Watkins has likely played his final game for LSU. The Destrehan graduate batted .226 with a .351 on-base average last season and struggled in summer ball this season.
“It’s probably time for us to try somebody else and try to upgrade our team,” Mainieri said.
Watkins could transfer to a Division II program or lower and be eligible right away, but he told Mainieri he would rather remain in school at LSU and graduate.
• Three other Tigers’ position players have had solid summer seasons.
Outfielder Alex Edward is hitting .306 with three home runs and 21 RBIs for the Wisconsin Rapid Rafters. Catcher Jackson Slaid is hitting at a .355 clip for the Danville Dans in the same league. And Mason Katz will also play in the Cape Cod League all-star game after hitting .264 with three homers 17 RBIs for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.