For the Duplantis Brothers, Every Moment Matters

by Cody Worsham
For the Duplantis Brothers, Every Moment Matters

IT’S A PERFECT Thursday night in May, and Andreas Duplantis is clapping.

One. Two. Three. OneTwo.

One. Two. Three. OneTwo.

He is not applauding, though he’s had plenty of cause to do just that this year, this magical and memorable and unlikely year of his life and the lives of those around him. The sort of year the world of college sports has never seen, and almost didn’t see, and almost surely never will see again.

Among LSU fans, none has experienced the thrill Andreas has, watching his brothers – Antoine and Armand by birth, Twanie and Mondo by calling, and a record-setting outfielder and a record-setting pole-vaulter by trade – who spent their lives chasing him, now chase history.

As Andreas claps – One. Two. Three. OneTwo. – Mondo, a week into his reign the greatest collegiate pole-vaulter of all time and Andreas’ younger brother by six years, sits to his left, definitely not clapping. He gives his older brother a look usually reserved for the eldest toward the youngest, a half-annoyed, half-amused half-smile followed by a slight and required shake of the head that communicates his thoughts clearly: You dork. 

The cause of the clap is the song blaring over the speakers at Alex Box Stadium, as Antoine approaches the plate for his third at-bat of this crucial conference matchup with Auburn. There are two types of people who know Saint Motel’s “Just My Type” as soon as the saxophone starts blaring the song’s opening notes: hardcore LSU baseball fans, and hardcore FIFA 15 fans.

Andreas and Mondo are both, which is how Antoine adopted the tune as his walk-up song four years ago as a true freshman. Other players change songs every season, and sometimes use multiple songs in a single season, but Antoine’s approach has never changed. Before every hit in Alex Box – and he’s had plenty – he’s walked up to the same melody he and his brother agreed upon four years ago, when Andreas was a self-titled “super senior” who had exhausted his athletic eligibility but was finishing his coursework during Antoine’s freshman season.  

“A victory lap,” Andreas jokes.

He wanted to help his inconspicuous younger brother brand himself, and “Just My Type,” which featured on EA Sports’ popular soccer video game franchise in the fall of 2014, begins with a sax solo backed by a rhythmic clap that Andreas saw as contagious and distinct.

“That was one of the proudest moments of my college career,” says Andreas, who pole-vaulted at LSU from 2012-2015 and holds two top-10 school records in the event.

Suddenly, Mondo interrupts. He remembers it differently.

“I showed Dre the song,” Mondo declares, his voice definitive as his words.

“That is absolutely and 100 percent a lie,” Andreas replies.

Mondo ignores his older brother. “I’m the one who played the song,” he insists, leaning forward. “I would play the song, like in my car. He would listen to the song from me.”

Andreas lets it go, the way big brothers let things go in order to make the point they intend to make.

“It was the clap,” Andreas says. “If he built himself up enough, in terms of reputation, people would start clapping, and it would get into your head.”

Four years later, the clapping has caught on, but it usually comes wildly from the Alex Box faithful after Antoine’s at-bat. Earlier in the game, he recorded his 338th career hit, bringing him within 14 of tying the LSU record set by Eddy Furniss 20 years ago, when Antoine was a baby and Mondo was not yet born.

When Antoine steps to the plate seeking hit No. 339, Mondo is still definitely not clapping, and he definitely isn’t letting this one go. Nothing motivates him more than the chance to one-up an older sibling.

“He thinks he owns the song,” Mondo says.

“I definitely own the clap,” Andreas says.

Meanwhile, as the argument unfolds, something rare happens on the field: Antoine strikes out. The inning ends, and the brothers let go. They wince sympathetically, feeling this small failure with their brother and forgetting, for a moment, the trivial nature of their banter.

Antoine returns to the dugout, grabs his glove, and heads toward right field. Mondo and Andreas sit back and watch from their seats along the first base line. A fan stops and shakes Mondo’s hand, congratulating him on his record-setting jump from the week prior, the highest in NCAA history, and Andreas beams with equal parts pride and incredulity.

How could he not? If 2016 was a victory lap, then 2019 is a celebratory parade that nobody really planned for – not even this wildly athletic, fiercely competitive family.

The surprise is not the chase. No one is surprised Mondo and Antoine are re-writing history.

The surprise is that that they’re doing together. At the same time. In the same place. 

MONDO’S MIND WAS made up: college was not for him.

Already one of the world’s elite pole-vaulters by his junior year at Lafayette High, the high-flying wunderkind was the owner of the national high school record and world junior record by the age of 17, the youngest ever to clear 19 feet. The plan, in Mondo’s young mind, was to jump straight from high school to a professional career, where he could accumulate winnings and endorsement deals before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

More importantly to his thinking: he could go up against the best.

“My junior year, I was pretty much set on not coming to college,” he says. “I wanted to be in great competitions and go against people who would give me great competitions.”

There was just one problem: Mondo needed somewhere to train. He’d outgrown the 125-foot runway and foam landing pit in his Lafayette backyard, and his high school took theirs down during football season.

Just an hour’s drive east, though, was the campus where his father, Greg (pictured with Mondo, above), developed into an All-American pole-vaulter, and where his mother, Helena, was a heptathlete. It was where Andreas jumped and where Antoine was already making his mark as an outfielder.

“My dad explained it like this: even though I wouldn’t get paid directly, I would get to use multi-million dollar facilities,” Mondo says. “You can’t get much better facilities in the country or even the world than here at LSU.

“For my long term goals – the world record, Olympic gold, World Championship gold – being able to be at facilities like this, the training staff, everybody here, the environment, it was the best spot to be.”

“For him,” Andreas adds, “there was definitely no harm in coming, and only good. One year of missed earnings is not going to kill you in the long run.”

There was another benefit, too. One that Antoine, specifically, sold his younger brother on. LSU could offer other things that a professional career could not: legacy, personal development, and a chance to grow up gradually, rather than rapidly. Lightly recruited out of high school, Antoine leapt at the opportunity to play for LSU. He encouraged Mondo to leap, too. 

“I think he got, not only to come to LSU and be a part of the same school the rest of his family has been a part of, but also break a few records and have another year of maturing,” Antoine says. “For myself especially, I think college has helped me grow as an adult, learning about different things in life, living on your own.”

Mondo was sold. He was LSU bound, signing his letter of intent in November of 2017, but he didn’t expect to meet his brother in Baton Rouge. In his mind, his path would never cross with Antoine’s in college. After earning Freshman All-American honors in 2016 and making the College World Series All-Tournament Team in 2017, Antoine was projected to go high enough in the 2018 MLB Draft to forego his senior season to embark on a pro career.

“At the time, I wanted Twanie to go,” Mondo says. “I wanted him to get drafted very high. I wanted the best for him. I wanted him to take the opportunity and start going on the road, because that’s what I thought he wanted to do.”

ANTOINE’S MIND WAS made up, too.

He hadn’t told anyone, really, other than his family and close friends, but if he didn’t hear his name called in the first 10 rounds of the 2018 draft, he was coming back to LSU for his senior season.

So when the Duplantis’ gathered for the second day of selections at their home in Lafayette, and Antoine’s phone never rang with word he’d been selected, no one had to say anything official or make any dramatic proclamations. Not even after the Cleveland Indians took him in the 19th round did they have to ask. 

They just knew.

“We had lost out of the regionals, so I went home to Lafayette for day two of the draft, rounds three through 10,” Antoine says. “My family knew, if I wasn’t getting drafted that day, I was going to come back. Mondo was there with my parents, a couple of my friends, my grandparents. We had it on, waited for a call, and when I didn’t really get anything, I was just like, ‘Yeah, I’m coming back.’”

The setting was appropriate. What better place to start a new chapter than the Duplantis home, which produced three SEC athletes in two sports and featured every apparatus for play and competition imaginable: a trampoline, a batting cage, a pole-vaulting pit.Andreas Duplantis pole-vaulted for LSU from 2012 to 2015.

And, more often than not, a bunch of athletic kids. Though six years separate Andreas and Mondo, with Antoine splitting the difference, their varying interests leveled things out. Andreas (pictured right) stuck with two sports – baseball and pole-vaulting – the longest, and his age made him the natural alpha dog. But Antoine and Mondo’s earlier specialization allowed them to catch up in their areas of expertise.

“The Duplantis backyard was a tornado of crazy athleticism,” Andreas recalls. “There were definitely differences in skill level in each event. Mondo was gaining on me in the pole vault, and Twanie and Mondo were similar in the pole vault when they were younger. I was the oldest in baseball, so I was a little ahead of them. It was this natural scale of improvement, but we could all play together.”

Age mattered, sometimes. Mondo never beat Andreas in a head-to-head jump. When Andreas finished as a senior at LSU, he was jumping in the mid-17 foot range, just as Mondo was starting to reach the low-17s.

“He hung it up at the absolute perfect time,” Mondo jokes.

“The next year would’ve been bad,” Andreas admits.

Mondo did outjump Antoine, though, a factor Antoine readily admits contributed to his decision to focus on baseball heading into high school. He always had about a foot on Mondo, but as his younger brother got stronger and narrowed the gap with technique and his studious nature – Mondo was crunching film of elite pole-vaulters when he was 10 years old – Antoine saw the writing on the wall.

“It’s not fun having your little brother beat up on you,” Antoine says.

Antoine’s always been the quietest of the three. He was never quieter, his brothers assure, than when Mondo topped him.

“Twanie is a good loser, for the most part,” Mondo says. “He did not like to lose to me. He could live with losing to Dre, even. But me beating him in anything, he wouldn’t really talk.

“He was always quiet in the first place. He was extra quiet when I beat him. And I was extra talkative when I beat him.”

It was genetic. No Duplantis can stand a loss, Mondo included. 

“He’s a great loser to anyone, except me and Twanie,” Andreas says.

In the Duplantis home, everything was a competition. Everything was a game. Though the two younger siblings narrowed their focus to one sport later in their lives, they still messed around with whatever ball they could get a hold of. And if there was no ball, they’d make due.

“There was a point, maybe three or four years ago, where everybody was really similar in speed, so we’d do a lot of footraces,” Mondo says. “Growing up, we had a big lot next to our house, maybe 70 yards. We would play football, baseball, a lot of rag ball. Every single day right after school, the whole neighborhood would gather around and we’d play whatever sport or ball we could get our hands on that day.”

The competition often got heated, but it was never dangerous. Not for the brothers, at least. Everyone else trying to keep pace put their bodies at risk, though.

“What was really crazy was the neighborhood kids,” Andreas says. “We’d have a trampoline, and we’re all doing flips and double bouncing each other, and a kid comes over and breaks his arm. We’re doing an obstacle course, and we’re all racing and chasing each other, and a kid misses the fence and breaks his ankle. That would happen on the regs.”

From this arena emerged three elite athletes. It was only fitting that here, on day two of the 2018 MLB Draft, fate conspired to place the youngest two together in a new arena, just an hour down the road, as their respective pursuits of history merged into a single path.

Antoine was returning, Mondo was arriving, and LSU was ready to watch both chase history.

THEY DON’T TALK about it.

Antoine needing 85 hits his senior season to tie the school and SEC record, after averaging 90 per season in his first three. Mondo needing not even to match his 6.05 meter jump – a new world junior record – from the summer’s World Junior Championships to break the NCAA record of 6.00 meters.

That’s always been fodder for sports writers and radio hosts and television broadcasts to discuss. When the brothers get together for lunch – an almost daily occurrence all year – they have other topics to consider.

“We never even really talk about our sports side of it,” Antoine says. “We talk about funny things that happen with his teammates, my teammates. We don’t really ever talk about achievements.”

Not even on May 11, when their intertwining arcs reached a new peak.

In Fayetteville, of all places.

When the brothers woke up on that Saturday, only two hotel rooms separated them. Mondo was in town for the SEC Track & Field Championships, while Antoine was preparing for the finale of a three-game series with Arkansas.

At 3:15, two miles separated them, as Antoine stepped to the plate inside Arkansas’ Baum-Walker Stadium, with the Tigers trailing 2-0 and two men on base. Mondo watched from his phone just down the road at John McDonnell Field, awaiting his turn.

It had already been a roller-coaster day for Antoine. In the top of the first inning, he moved into second-place on LSU’s all-time hit list with a single to left field, his 333rd career hit. But in the sixth, he stranded two men on base with a pop up to shortstop, slamming his helmet when he arrived back in the dugout in a rare display of emotion.

“I think it was the first time I really saw raw emotion – full on rage from him,” Andreas says.

In the top of the eighth, Antoine redeemed himself, depositing a 97 mile per hour fastball just over the right field fence to put the Tigers on top 3-2, a lead they would not surrender on a homer he didn’t expect.

“I didn’t feel like it was going out,” Antoine says, admitting he cursed before rounding first, thinking the right fielder had settled underneath it. “Their field played smaller. And I guess that fact that the dude was throwing 97 didn’t hurt. I capped it a little bit, but I guess the wind just caught it.”

Five hours later, Antoine was on a flight home, as Mondo went after the NCAA pole-vaulting record. He’d exceeded it last summer, clearing 6.05 in the fourth-highest jump in the history of the sport, but he’d failed in five attempts throughout his freshman season – three times in late April at the LSU Invitational, and twice already in Fayetteville.

Antoine couldn’t watch live as Mondo prepared for his third and final attempt, but he knows his brother. Big moments bring out the best in Mondo.

“He’s kind of the worst at practicing,” Antoine jokes. “He’ll go to practice, and you’ll think, ‘Wow, will he ever jump well again? He looks so bad.’ Then you’ll challenge him, or my dad will make a bet with him, or start making fun of him, and then he’ll go and show why he’s such a great competitor.

“He likes to have that pressure on him. That’s really when he thrives. A lot of his big jumps are on third attempts. That’s your last attempt. That’s when all the pressure is on you. That’s what he likes to do. I think that shows what kind of person he is.”

On attempt three, Mondo cleared the bar, falling to his knees and pumping his fists before back-flipping with an expression equal parts relief and ecstasy. The jump not only broke the NCAA record, but it also put LSU in first place and helped them claim their first SEC title since 1990.

“I had my brother to hype me up,” Mondo told the SEC Network shortly after. “I didn’t want to be the second best athlete in the family.”

Andreas watched from New York, retweeting every highlight and even making his own – a meme of Antoine’s home run being blown over the right field wall by Lance Stephenson. Antoine found out about Mondo’s jump when the team plane landed in Baton Rouge – and acknowledged Andreas’ video with his own online retort.

But when the family got together the next day for Mother’s Day, did they talk about it?

If you’ve read this far into the story, you know the answer already.

“I got asked if we told each other congrats after Fayetteville,” Mondo says. “It was hard for me to explain that we didn’t say congrats, but we talked after. Not that it was any other day, because it was a very special day, but I don’t know, it’s not something we dwell on. We’re just brothers.”

IT’S A PERFECT Thursday night in May, and Alex Box Stadium is roaring.

Antoine has just crushed his ninth homer of the season into the right field bleachers, and his brothers are the loudest of the bunch.

“He totally redeemed himself,” Andreas texts later.

Pride is hard to describe but easy to recognize, and it’s never easier than in moments like these. Forget about the home run, for a second. Notice Mondo’s attire – a light purple t-shirt featuring a Tiger in an old school, purple and gold pinstripe baseball uniform. The Tiger wears No. 8, of course, because he’s Andreas’ creation.

In his full-time work, Andreas does merchandising for Gap in New York City, working with the company’s North American retail rollouts, planning seasons, and helping to manage inventory. On the side, he designs his own merchandise – Parade Grounds – as a creative outlet, and this shirt is the star of the show.

It’s not the first time Mondo’s worn it. When he threw out the first pitch to Antoine at a home game earlier this season, he sported the yellow version. Andreas didn’t even have to ask him. Mondo was proud of his brother’s work.

Mondo’s pride doesn’t stop there. His admiration for Antoine is about more than his home runs and base hits. His brother’s work ethic inspires him regularly.

“I definitely think I can learn some things from Twanie about work ethic and dedication to what he does,” Mondo says. “Twanie has worked as hard as anyone as I’ve ever seen at anything to get to where he is today. Going from barely anybody wanting him out of high school to coming to try to play here with no scholarship at LSU, fighting for a spot.

“I’ve kind of always been toward the top of pole vaulting, so maybe I’ve felt I could sit back and relax a little bit. He was always pushing for that next level, which motivated me. Even though maybe I was higher in the ranks than he was, I had to keep pushing. He’s definitely motivational for how hard he works and how hard he gets after it.”

Andreas might be the proudest of them all. He’s the oldest, and age offers a sort of perspective nothing else can. So can distance – he misses more of his brothers’ display of athletic prowess than he’d like to in New York City.

“These are always moments I’ll cherish forever,” he says, nodding toward Mondo next to him. “I don’t get them that often, because I live away. He’s here for this year, Twanie’s last year here. I really cherish these moments together.

None of the three know exactly what the future holds. Antoine will certainly be gone. He’s already graduated from LSU and is in the final weeks of his eligibility, and he’s likely only improved his draft stock by hitting 11 home runs this season. He’ll be playing baseball this time next season, but no one knows where just yet.

Mondo hasn’t made his mind up, but the 2020 Olympics – which he’s already qualified for – are just around the corner. He doesn’t plan to make a decision on where he will be next year until he finishes his freshman season. He could return for a second season or train independently next year, but after working out mostly alone for most of his high school career, he’s found training at LSU has improved him in ways he never anticipated.

“To have people to run alongside me, it’s motivating. You don’t want to get embarrassed at practice. You don’t want to get left in the dust. It improves everything,” he says.

“Track and field, you never think of it as a team sport. It’s very individual. I think since we have such a great team right now, we have this very team-friendly environment to where we all want each other to do well. We wanted to be in Fayetteville hoisting the SEC Championship trophy, and we want to win the NCAA Championship.

“It’s pretty motivating going onto the track, and you’re not only trying to get better for yourself, but you’re trying to get better for the team that’s depending on you for crucial points to win the national championship. That was an added pressure that I liked and that I feel has been making me better.”

His brother has made him better, too. It’s not hard to imagine a world in which neither Duplantis brother was on campus this year. Both could be professionals, Mondo jumping and Antoine hitting and Andreas watching.

No thanks, says Mondo. 

“I know looking back on it in 20 years, I’m going to be more than thankful that he came back for that final year, because it definitely wouldn’t be the same experience this year competing for LSU if he weren’t here with me,” he says. 

Andreas is the most settled of the three, with a wife and a home and a great job in a great city. He can’t look ahead to the future just yet. The present offers plenty to capture his attention.

“You try not to take these moments for granted,” he says. “As you get older, you see how things change, you get pulled in different directions. We’ve always kept the same energy. It’s the same us. We’re really holding on to these moments.”

And in this particular moment, on a perfect Thursday in May, it’s his brother he’s holding on to. As Antoine trots around the bases, Mondo and Andreas embrace. When they finish, Mondo turns to the crowd around him. They’re clapping, but he screams so loud, it’s easy to hear him above the noise.

“That’s my brother! That’s my brother,” he repeats, until the clapping finally stops.