LSU's Antoine Duplantis vaults into baseball stardom

Gannett Louisiana
LSU right fielder Antoine Duplantis is tied for the team lead in triples with five and was fourth in RBIs with 36.

BATON ROUGE — One might say freshman Antoine Duplantis has “vaulted” into stardom for the LSU baseball team.

He has led LSU in batting average for most of the season and entered Saturday afternoon's regular season finale against No. 1 Florida leading the Tigers with a .339 average and with 76 hits after going 4-for-5 with an RBI in the 5-4 win over the Gators Friday night and 1-for-3 with an RBI in a 7-3 win in the first of two games on Saturday. Duplantis has either batted first or third for the No. 8 Tigers (39-16, 19-10 Southeastern Conference), who will be playing in the SEC Tournament this week in Hoover, Alabama.

The speedy right fielder from Lafayette High is tied for the team lead in triples with five and was fourth in RBIs with 36.

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“I would never have expected just coming in and starting right away and doing as well as I’ve done and we’ve done as a team,” Duplantis said.

Not bad for a skinny kid who was the last recruit for the class of 2016.

“We didn’t think much of his chance for playing with us,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said he remembered thinking after Duplantis participated in a LSU camp when he was a freshman in high school. “At the time, he was just kind of weak and overmatched.”

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Fast forward to the summer of 2014 before Duplantis’ senior year at Lafayette High. Mainieri went to a prospect showcase in Atlanta to interview New York Yankees scout Andy Cannizaro, a former Tulane shortstop from New Orleans, about a job on his staff and to visit the prospects who were already committed to sign that November for LSU’s class of 2015. Duplantis was not in that number at the time.

But just the day before the camp, Mainieri had received an eye catching email from Duplantis’ father, Greg Duplantis, an attorney in Lafayette who was a pole vaulter at LSU from 1982-86 who became an All-American and an alternate for the United States Olympic team for the 1996 Summer Games. Duplantis met his wife Helena (maiden name) of Avesta, Sweden, at LSU as she was a star track athlete who competed in the heptathlon and was on the volleyball team. The email explained the couple’s love for LSU and history with the school, where their oldest son, Andreas, was a pole vaulter on the LSU track team at the time.

“I wanted to take a look at Antoine after that email, and I was interested in hearing who Andy thought were the good players at the camp,” Mainieri said. “Sure enough, I ask him what players caught his eye, and he says, ‘Hey, what do you think of that little outfielder from Lafayette?’ That helped Andy get the job.”

Mainieri ended up signing both. By this time, Duplantis was much faster and stronger than when Mainieri had previously seen him.

“He developed late,” his father said. “He has long arms and legs. He’s had to work hard. He grew up with O’Neal Lochridge (LSU’s freshman starting third baseman early in the season out St. Thomas More in Lafayette before a back injury sidelined him for the season) when he was 12. Antoine was not.”

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Duplantis vaulted toward Mainieri that day in Atlanta, though.

“He was like a completely different player,” Mainieri said. “He had gotten stronger. He played with more confidence. When I watched the game, he jumped out to me like a sore thumb. And I knew he came from a lineage of athletes — LSU athletes by the way.”

Duplantis also has a younger brother, Armand, who is 16 and a sophomore on the Lafayette High track team. He holds world best pole vault efforts for age groups 7 to 12. A year ago at Lafayette High, he set national freshman records in indoors and outdoors and was named the Gatorade track athlete of the year in Louisiana. His younger sister, Johanna, is also an age group world record holder in the pole vault.

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“Antoine is the black sheep of the family,” his mother said. “But it was just because it’s natural in the United States to play football and baseball. Track is really not as big here compared to Europe. It’s just what everybody does here. I’m learning about the game. I still have a lot to learn. It seems simple, but it’s not. It’s a tradition. It’s nice for the kids to follow in their parents’ footsteps and go to the same college.  It’s very nice to have him down the street, too, to be able to go to all the games.”

Antoine’s father saw the move to baseball coming early.

“There was no doubt he was going to do another sport,” Greg Duplantis said. “He likes to do other stuff. He was good at baseball from the start. He was always going in the cage to hit as a kid.”

Mainieri is glad he traded the pole for the bat.

“He’s not a pole vaulter,” Mainieri laughed. “He’s a baseball player. His family doesn’t know that much about the sport. It’s great. I don’t have any parents yelling at me because I don’t know what I’m doing. But he brings that athletic gene that the rest of the family shares.”

Duplantis’ parents do not need to pressure the coach to play their son.

“When you watch him play, you see what I mean,” Mainieri said. “He just looks like a gazelle out there in the outfield. He can really run them down. He’s got a good arm.”

And he was worth that email read.

“I usually don’t even look at most of my emails or delete them right off, but I read that one,” Mainieri said. “Oh, wow. I tell you, I don’t know if we have enough time in the day to talk about that young man. He’s been everything that I had hoped that he would be. He’s got great hand-eye coordination as a hitter. And it’s amazing, he was virtually the last guy in that recruiting class.”

Although LSU right fielder Antoine Duplantis has become a star on the Tigers' baseball team, he did not always attract so much attention.

He apparently got that eye from his mom, who has “super vision,” Greg Duplantis said. “I had to have the Lasik surgery to get to 20-20. She can read signs in the car 40 or 50 yards away that I can’t.”

What Duplantis treasures most that he got from his parents, though, is their work ethic.

“They’re both great athletes, still,” he said. “They both work out every single day in the mornings. My mom goes to the track and runs all the time. They know pretty much as much as you could know about athletics — the mentality of being a professional athlete and performing at the highest level and the struggles you have to go through and how to overcome those.”

Athletics in the Duplantis family is an everyday routine.

“My parents have taught me a lot about the physical part of it,” Duplantis said. “Getting as much rest as you can, eating as much as you can. Well, for me at least, I’m a skinnier guy. And just putting everything you have into this and not worrying about all that outside stuff.”