Basketball won his heart. Football led him to LSU. But it’s baseball in the end.
Jared Foster grew up playing every sport he could in Lake Charles. He became the starting quarterback at Barbe High School, transitioned to basketball in the winter months before playing baseball for the powerhouse Buccaneers in the spring.
Eventually Les Miles’ offered Foster a preferred walk on spot as a quarterback at LSU. As big an honor as that is for a Louisiana kid, the reality remains that it’s a ticket to hours and hours of practice without the real possibility of meaningful playing time.
Foster watched from the sidelines as LSU plowed through the greatest regular season in the school’s history, but he made use of his days off.
“During the fall, while (the football players) were practicing, on days off (Foster) would come out here and take ground balls,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “The lower level athletes at football are the best athletes at baseball, so he jumped out to you with his athleticism. I told him, ‘Jared, I’d love to have you in the spring.’”
Foster recalled his initial reaction.
“Honestly, coming out of high school I didn’t want to play baseball,” Foster said. “I wanted to play football.”
Foster took Mainieri up on the offer to join the baseball squad in the spring of 2012, and unlike over on the football field, Foster made immediate contributions. He played in 45 of 65 games for the Tiger squad that fell just one game shy of the College World Series.
Though he played, Foster struggled to find consistency at the plate. He hit just .218 and was largely a pinch runner and extra outfielder.
The tools were obvious, but so was the fact that they needed fine tuning.
“Most of our guys they play summer ball, they play high school ball, they’re on the circuit,” said hitting coach Javi Sanchez. “When they come to us they’re pretty polished. We knew Foster had a ways to go.”
Polished as some of the signees are, few possess the speed, strength and arm Foster does. It was just going to take time.
Not only did he have to improve at the plate, Foster was learning to play the outfield for the first time. In high school he manned second base. Infielders like to look back and pretend that outfielders have it easy.
It didn’t take Foster long to realize that wasn’t the case.
“It was my first time to play outfield, ever,” Foster said. “It was a little intimidating at first. I was learning routes, tracking balls and it was a little difficult.”
So when Stony Brook headed north to Omaha, the Tigers dispersed to their various summer leagues. Foster played an entire summer and returned to school as a baseball player, an outfielder.
Two outfield spots opened up entering the 2013 season, Raph Rhymes’ left field being the only sure thing. Foster battled through fall and spring practice only to see a pair of freshmen take the reins opposite Rhymes.
Foster kept grinding. Sanchez kept teaching. Results came.
“Jared, for the most part kept a level head throughout the whole deal,” Sanchez said. “He’s earned everything he’s gotten so far.”
Foster grabbed a bat for an essentially meaningless at bat in the series finale at Mississippi State. The Tigers had won games one and two but were trailing 10-1 in the eighth inning of game three. Stud State closer Jonathan Holder took the ball and fired his trademark fastball. Foster threw his hands at the ball and launched a home run over the wall in left center.
A homer closing a gap from nine to eight doesn’t do much in the grand scheme, but it showed Foster’s explosive talent. The blast was a precursor to Foster’s success to come.
He became a key bench piece on one of the best teams in America, hitting .359 for the season in 64 at bats. The highlight came on a Hoover, Al., Sunday in a battle of the top two teams in college baseball, LSU and Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament Championship Game.
Mark Laird, the usual right field starter, had rolled an ankle and was held out of play so Foster got the call. He cracked an RBI single in the fourth, gunned down the go ahead run at the plate in the seventh and then gave LSU the lead in the ninth by reaching on a hit by pitch, swiping second and coming around to score on a Chris Sciambra single.
“He did everything a ballplayer can do to win a ballgame,” Mainieri said.
After another disappointing end to a season, a two-and-out in Omaha, Foster hit the road for another summer on the diamond. He hit .373 in 16 games in the Northwoods League and returned to Baton Rouge in the fall ready to win the left field spot now vacated by Rhymes.
The flashes showed back up in the fall, and they’ve returned this semester. Now a junior, Foster may have a leg up on Sciambra and senior Sean McMullen for the left field job.
“When he’s good, he’s really good,” Mainieri said. “If he can do that on a more consistent basis, not only will he be an outstanding player for us, I think he’ll make himself a professional baseball player.”
If Foster does win the job, he’ll team up with Andrew Stevenson and Laird to form one of college baseball’s fastest outfields.
“It’s like one big glove out there,” Foster said of the trio. “We’ve been proving it in practice and in scrimmages, We’re fast. Not a lot of balls are going to drop.”
So what does Foster have to do to win and hold down that job?
“Hit,” he said.
The arm and the legs aren’t going anywhere, and if the bat comes along, Foster can be a difference maker. It might not be the route he envisioned two years ago, but Foster seems at ease with it now.
He says he gets chills watching the football team play on Saturday’s in Tiger Stadium, and he admits he wants to be out there, but things seem to have worked themselves out.
“Giving up (basketball) was hard, but giving up football was even worse because you’re in college and you’re already doing it and committed to it,” Foster said. “I’ve jumped right into baseball, and I’m feeling at home here.”