Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bertman Enjoys His First PG Event

Jim Ecker        

JUPITER, Fla. -- Skip Bertman, the legendary LSU coach who won five national titles with the Tigers, sat quietly in a golf cart Thursday afternoon as Marucci Elite played Palm Beach Select on the opening day of the WWBA World Championship.


Bertman, 72, has seen just about everything in baseball, but he'd never seen a Perfect Game event before. He figured it was time.


And yes, times have changed.


"When I coached, I would make a trip to New York to see one kid pitch," he said. "I'd go to California and spend a few days and go to a junior college event."


It took a lot of time and money to see a few kids. Now you can see hundreds of good players in one place. That's why he's here.


There are 85 teams and more than 1,000 high school players in the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, hailing from all parts of the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and elsewhere. Earlier this year, Perfect Game hosted a tournament with 216 teams and more than 3,000 kids.


Bertman laughed when he recalled those old trips to New York to see one kid.


"Now, of course, the high school coach is obsolete, and it's the summer league coach where you go (to discuss players), and to Perfect Game events and other places like this where you can get all of the people together," he said. "So all the college coaches, evidently, will be here. I wanted to come down and see it. I've heard a lot about it."


Bertman liked what he saw.


"This is obviously much better," he said. "It's a wonderful venue for every professional scout, but also for every college and junior college scout."


Bertman won his five NCAA titles at LSU in 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 2000, turning Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series into his personal playpen. He compiled an 870-330-3 record in 18 years with the Tigers and won seven SEC titles, but it's not like he inherited a national power when he became the head coach in Baton Rouge, La., in 1984.


Bertman said the LSU baseball program was "mired in mediocrity" when he arrived.


"The first thing I had to do was make the kids feel special, because they didn't think they were special enough to win," he remarked. "I told them the sights and smells and sounds of Omaha, Neb., are familiar to me, and that's where we're going."


Bertman helped the University of Miami win the College World Series in 1982 as an assistant coach with the Hurricanes, so he knew about Omaha from first-hand experience. He wanted to go back.


The Tigers did not win the College World Series on their first trip to Omaha, and they didn't win on their second or third trips, either. But once they rose to the top, they stayed there and won five crowns in 10 years. That's one of the many reasons he was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 2006.


Bertman believed in motivation and the powers of the human mind. He literally convinced his players they could win.


"That's the edge I might have had," he said. "I don't think I taught them any more baseball than other coaches did, because I coached against some great coaches. I taught them enough about baseball to make them successful, but I think I made them feel special and made them believe they could do anything."


Bertman was a coach for 40 years and a winner every step of the way. He won a state title during his 11 years at Miami Beach High School, his alma mater. He helped the University of Miami win a national title, and he led LSU to five national crowns.


"I'm very fortunate," he said. "I was always going to be a coach. I coached my first team when I was 14 and the kids were 12."


That was in Miami, where he grew up. He got paid $2 a game. The pay was slightly better when he became a high school coach at age 23, when he got $600 as the head baseball coach and $200 as an assistant football coach.


"I was rich," he said.


Bertman served as LSU's director of athletics for six years after he retired as the baseball coach, and then served as athletic director "emeritus" before retiring from that post this past June. He didn't stay retired for long, however.


"By July or August I had to do something," he said. "I lasted about 30 or 40 days of doing nothing."


He's now working for the Marucci Bat Company, which sponsors the Marucci Elite team that's competing here. He's also working with a youth baseball complex in Baton Rouge and giving speeches.


He's worked his entire life and doesn't see any reason to stop now.


"It's been a wonderful ride for me," he said.

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