Vaught hoping to crack staff in senior campaign with LSU

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 17, 2003

BATON ROUGE &045; Cutting up and joking from the LSU dugout at Alex Box Stadium is not exactly how Huntington School product Chad Vaught framed spending his senior year.

The hurling right-hander, who was virtually untouchable against Mississippi Private School Association competition in his four years with the Hounds, has had a frustrating career with the Tigers to say the least.

Owner of a national championship ring with the last LSU team to rule the college baseball world in Omaha, Neb., Vaught’s four years have been marked by shoulder and arm problems.

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Finally, healthy from shoulder surgery in 2002, Vaught finds himself battling with a couple of junior college transfers for a spot in the LSU (13-7-1) rotation.

&uot;My heart tells me I’m 100 percent ready, but my mind says otherwise,&uot; Vaught, 23, said. &uot;This year we’re loaded with good pitching so it’s hard to get my spot back. All I can do is be patient.&uot;

Twenty-three and patient? Even harder to believe on a team that stumbled out of the blocks before rectifying the season with one loss in its last nine games.

Vaught has taken to the mound once this season during LSU’s third game of the season against Northwestern State.

After surrendering a soft single through the left side of the infield, Vaught walked the next batter after starting him off with two strikes.

LSU head coach Smoke Laval immediately yanked Vaught, whose earned-run-average is an inflated 99.00 because he faced two batters and was responsible for the runner that scored.

&uot;I’m just disappointed Chad hasn’t gotten a fair shot,&uot; said Gerald Vaught, Chad’s father. &uot;In college playing intrasquad games in the fall is where you make it or break it. Chad didn’t get to do that because he was recovering.

&uot;Other guys did so they earned a spot, but I feel Chad had already earned a right last year.&uot;

There are no sour grapes here. After all, talking with Vaught he seems ready to move on from baseball after this season.

Dental school in New Orleans awaits for the two-time Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll member.

That is certainly a more profitable path than trudging from ball park to ball park in the minor leagues wishing that one day a Major League Baseball team will place a call.

&uot;Chad has a lot of friends who are already in the minors,&uot; Gerald Vaught said. &uot;He’s seen them get drafted and ride buses, make $1,000 a month and live off hamburgers.

&uot;He’s got a chance to do that too, but he knows he could spend four years in dental school and have his own practice set up.&uot;

But how do you let go of every man’s boyhood dream?

The elder Vaught said his son will never let on how deep his disappointment burns inside.

Vaught was projected to be one of LSU’s top five pitchers heading into last season and looked like his old self in a six-inning, eight-strikeout performance against Southeastern Louisiana on Feb. 12, 2002.

&uot;Last year was really frustrating, more than right now, because I had an opportunity to be a starter,&uot; Chad Vaught said. &uot;Then I went down after that first week. I didn’t know what happened.&uot;

He was penciled in for the start against Centenary the following week, but pain flared up in his pitching shoulder, and Vaught decided to hang the spikes up and have surgery.

Perhaps reluctantly, Vaught has accepted his new role as someone who puts on the same uniform as his teammates but whose duties usually come from a seated position.

&uot;That’s one reason why LSU has been so successful over the years &045; we pick each other up,&uot; Vaught said. &uot;We trust each other. We have talent to go as far as we want this season.&uot;

It’s hard to feel &uot;we&uot; when ‘I’ is practically an outsider.

What makes the pill harder to swallow is understanding Vaught has never been given a real chance.

For legendary LSU coach Skip Bertman, Vaught pitched just one inning in two years because Bertman liked to toss his more experienced pitchers.

Laval’s philosophy is just the opposite, leaving Vaught out in the cold.

&uot;I’ve talked to coach, and he told me I’m not ready yet,&uot; Vaught said. &uot;Hopefully I can get stronger in the next few weeks and throw a few innings.&uot;

Gerald Vaught, maybe even more than his son, clutches tightly to hope that Chad will find his footing on the pitcher’s mound once again this season.

Will it make up for four long years of seeing expectations crushed repeatedly? Probably not, but it’d make a good story.

&uot;If Chad can get in 15 or 20 innings this year, he probably could get drafted in the 30th or 40th round,&uot; Gerald Vaught said. &uot;He wouldn’t go, but it’d be something to tell his kids about.&uot;