One simple phone call changed Mark Laird’s path at LSU. Had it not been for a call to recruiting coordinator Javi Sanchez, Laird would have scratched and clawed his way on the football practice field as a walk-on. But because of that phone call, Laird emerged as a superstar in the outfield his freshman year on campus.
“I think about that phone call all the time,” Laird said. “What if I wouldn’t have made it?”
To fully understand he significance of said phone call, you have to realize the position Laird was in as a senior at Ouachita Christian. Sure, he was an already established player on both the gridiron and baseball diamond, and of course, he was coming off of a senior baseball season that earned him Most Valuable Player in Class 1A. But Laird’s junior season is what cost him scholarship opportunities. Furthermore, an injury suffered during his junior year derailed any opportunity of Laird being offered a scholarship to play LSU baseball.
So Laird went to campus with the intention of walking on for the football team.
“I was off the radar for most baseball programs,” Laird recalled. “I went to a camp (for LSU) and they said they liked me but wanted me to go to LSU-Eunice. At the time I just liked football more than I liked baseball. I liked that adrenaline rush on the football field that baseball didn’t really give you.”
Laird said he was locked onto football and fully intent on making the team, but he still wanted to let Sanchez know he was on campus. Laird called LSU’s hitting coach at the time, and Sanchez invited him to come take part in workouts and drills with the baseball team. The rest was history.
“With baseball, I was competing against 35 total people on the roster, but with football I was competing against 15 wide receivers just to see the field,” Laird said. “I felt like I had a better opportunity.”
While the notion was true, Laird started out of the gates trailing all the other horses in the outfield. In fact, after the fall of his freshman year, LSU head coach Paul Mainieri told Laird that in the competition amongst seven outfielders, Laird was in actuality the seventh outfielder. As it would for most competitors, that lit a fire under the former OCS standout.
“I was determined to get a starting job,” Laird said. “It wasn’t like I was going to be disappointed if I didn’t get a starting job, because that’s the norm. I’m a walk-on freshman.”
Two weeks before the season, Mainieri met with Laird and told him he would be starting right field and that he would bat second in the lineup.
“I was floored,” Laird said.
Laird believed he turned heads in those 2013 scrimmages with his defense. Makes sense for a player that eventually landed on the SEC All-Defensive Team in 2015.
And while Laird gravitated more toward football at the time, he certainly found that adrenaline rush on the baseball diamond in front of one of the most loyal fanbases in college baseball.
“Oh yeah, the butterflies came every game,” Laird said. “There was always something about playing football, but when you get in front of 10,000 people every time you play, it’s pretty nerve-racking.”
Laird batted .307 his freshman year, but he hit a team-best .400 in all of LSU’s postseason games that season. The postseason seemed to be when Laird made the most noise during his Tiger playing career. Laird went on a tear the following year in 2014 when he hit .471 in the SEC Tournament. On most teams Laird would have been the talk of the town. The only problem was his teammate Alex Bregman hit over .400 in the tournament as well.
“It seemed like at that point, no matter what you do, Alex Bregman overshadows you,” Laird said with a laugh that followed. “I think at that point we were fighting for a national seed, so I guess I felt more was on the line. That brings a little extra out of me. I guess that goes for all competitive athletes.”
That competitive spirit was shared by his older brothers John, Matt and James, who each took part in big moments at OCS throughout their athletic career. Few have accomplished what the younger brother has, though, as he was a two-time Class 1A Player of the Year. Not only did Laird hold a career batting average of .454, he also boasted a 1.00 pitching ERA. Laird went out on a high note, as he posted a 0.72 ERA as a senior.
Laird took part in three baseball state titles and one football state title in his OCS career, which strangely enough, is the least unique thing he did at the school.
“I feel like the class behind me was even more successful than ours,” Laird said. “I think that success draws others in. If somebody is winning and part of a good program like that, others want to join in. I watched my oldest brother (John) win a state championship in 2000, and it made me want to strive to be a state champion. All the younger kids see it and want to follow in that success.”
After Laird finished his career at LSU with a .308 batting average in 186 games played, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. Laird spent a few years in the minors before returning to Baton Rouge. Laird now studies at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine on the outskirts of LSU’s main campus, where he still gets recognized from his playing days from time to time.
Just imagine. He could’ve easily been another face in the crowd if not for one phone call. And that thought never truly goes away.
“What if I didn’t make that phone call?” Laird said. “I have good buddies I still keep up with to this day from that team. I feel that was the last true family atmosphere I was apart of in my playing days. I think back to it and I’m honestly just thankful for every opportunity I had.”