1986 Baseball Team to Celebrate 30-Year Reunion

by Bill Franques
1986 Baseball Team to Celebrate 30-Year Reunion

Editor’s note: This weekend, the 1986 LSU baseball team will hold a 30-year reunion celebrating the school’s first College World Series berth. Members of the team will be recognized on the field of Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field prior to Saturday night’s game vs. Alabama.

After posting a 41-14 regular season record and claiming the SEC Western Division championship, the 1985 LSU baseball team appeared ready to enjoy postseason success. In just the second year of the magnificent Skip Bertman coaching era, LSU — which at the time had made just one NCAA Tournament appearance in its history — was poised to make an impact upon the collegiate baseball landscape.

The Tigers, however, suffered four consecutive defeats – two in the SEC Tournament and two in the NCAA Central Regional in Austin, Texas, to end the ’85 season.

Second baseman Burke Broussard recalls that after the regional elimination game loss to Lamar, he and his fellow seniors-to-be – shortstop Jeff Reboulet, catcher Rob Leary and third baseman Jeff Yurtin – made a commitment to insuring that LSU would rise to a new level in 1986.

“Our season in 1985 ended on a pretty disappointing note since we won the SEC West, but we were eliminated in two games in both the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Regional,” Broussard said. “We really got embarrassed, to be honest.  It was immediately following that last game that we talked about how we were going to work hard and do our part to provide leadership in helping the team achieve more success the next year in ’86.”

Featuring a roster that included six future Major Leaguers, the 1986 LSU squad reached unprecedented heights, winning the SEC regular-season and tournament titles. The Tigers then played host to the NCAA South I Regional in Alex Box Stadium, where LSU posted a thrilling 7-6 win over Tulane in the regional title game to earn its first berth in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. In just his third season at the helm of the program, Bertman — with a dedicated coaching staff and a group of determined players — had directed LSU to college baseball’s ultimate destination.

The Tigers finished fifth at the 1986 CWS, sandwiching a win over Maine in between losses to Loyola Marymount and Miami (Fla.). LSU has since returned to Omaha 16 times, winning six national championships, the second-most in NCAA history.

“Choosing LSU over other schools will forever be one of my best decisions,” said Leary, who has enjoyed a nearly 30-year career in professional baseball as a player and coach. “I believe our ’86 team set the foundation for what became and remains the elite baseball program it is today. We achieved great successes on the field due to the highly talented group of players and the winning attitude Skip, (assistant coach) Smoke Laval and the entire coaching staff instilled in us.

“Although we didn’t achieve the ultimate goal of winning the national championship, I feel we won so much more, having formed lifelong friendships and creating great memories on and off the field.”

Broussard said the ’86 Tigers benefited greatly from the lessons taught in the Bertman system.

“Our coaches always stressed us to be our best in all endeavors and to hold each other accountable to those standards,” Broussard explained. “We had to be a good person, a good teammate and a person to be counted on when times got tough.  The toughness they instilled in me has helped me both as a parent in raising my four kids, and in my career as a high school teacher and coach for the past 28 years.   

“Coach Bertman’s presence, influence and knowledge of many things outside of baseball were perhaps the greatest gifts he gave to all of us.  We were very fortunate to have a coach like him to mold us into the men we are today.”

Centerfielder Michael Papajohn, a native of Birmingham, Ala., echoed Broussard’s sentiments about Bertman.

“Growing up in Alabama my dream as a kid was to play football for Bear Bryant,” said Papajohn, now an accomplished actor who has appeared in movies like Spiderman, Transformers and Jurassic World. “Dreams do come true because I believe I played for the Bear Bryant of college baseball. It was an honor to play for him and to be part of the LSU baseball program.”

This weekend, members of the 1986 LSU baseball team will celebrate the 30-year anniversary of their historic accomplishment. Friendships will be renewed and memories shared of an experience that continues to impact their lives.

“I think the team was special because we always did things together as a team, no matter who you were,” Broussard explained. “Although we had all sorts of MLB prospects on our team, egos never got in the way.  We went out together, ate together and got along pretty much all the time. All the hard work, sacrifice and obstacles we encountered paid off in the long run, and many of us still are very close friends after 30 years.  I think the 1986 team is credited with putting LSU Baseball on the map around the nation, and it led to the beginning of what was to come in the following years.”

“The bond the team had was really special,” Papajohn said. “We did everything together. A lot of the time players go their separate ways outside the locker room, but we were always together.

“What I never imagined in my two years playing at LSU was how it would impact my life and my family’s life. LSU continues to give back long after you graduate in so many ways.”