By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE – Hayden Travinski’s matter-of-faction disposition recalling he’s had more surgeries (four) than NCAA tournament at-bats (none) speaks volumes about his LSU baseball odyssey.
The former Airline and Loyola Prep two-time All-State catcher has had three knee surgeries and Tommy John surgery, causing him to fall out of love with baseball and then back in it.
In his four college seasons, the 6-3, 235-pound redshirt junior has seen the Tigers sign seven catchers including three this year.
But Travinski, who cuts an imposing figure in his Oakley shades and his massive left forearm pad, is standing bigger and badder than ever. He’s the hottest bat in LSU’s lineup over the last six weeks as the No. 5 NCAA tournament national seed Tigers open the Baton Rouge Regional vs. Tulane Friday at 2 p.m. on ESPNU.
“As tough a road as it was, as tumultuous as it was, there’s really nothing I wouldn’t change,” Travinski said of a career path leading to an unwavering, steely resolve forged through the litany of injuries and disappointment. “I wouldn’t be in the spot where I’m at now had anything been different.”
Where Travinski is now is where he wasn’t two months ago – in the starting lineup batting .426 with 24 RBIs in 31 games with all 15 of his starts in LSU’s last 21 contests – because he was working finding his swing earlier in the season seeing pinch-hit duty after missing fall practice last October with an arm injury.
What has earned Travinski the respect of his teammates and LSU head coach Jay Johnson goes beyond his production as he climbed from the bottom of the catching depth chart behind freshman Brady Neal and fellow redshirt junior Alex Milazzo.
“Hayden just kept working, kept developing, kept improving,” Johnson said, “and more importantly than anything he never one time complained about `I’m not the guy.’
“He showed some real character and maturity and leadership. He put the team ahead of himself. When it was his time, he was ready and I don’t think you could ask for a better example of how you want guys to be the way Hayden has been this year.”
Travinski was tempted to enter the transfer portal last season, which began with his recovering from two 2021 surgeries. The first was in April for a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm that caused him to miss the last 29 games of Paul Mainieri’s last season as head coach.
“That was the second of three surgeries I had in 14 months,” said Travinski, who has 46 LSU career starts in 102 appearances. “I fell out of love with the sport. I had a tough time being able to watch games and being around the team because it just hurt.”
Eventually, Travinski’s fondness returned. He realized as much as he enjoyed the competition, he missed the camaraderie of teammates and the daily shenanigans that permeate locker rooms.
“It’s again having that childlike sense of joy,” Travinski said. “And the biggest change for me is having gratefulness. You never know when it’s going to be your last swing.”
His teammates have reveled in his success. For instance, LSU center fielder Dylan Crews described Travinski’s two-out, two-strike, pinch-hit game-winning homer in the top of the ninth April 23 at Ole Miss as “awesome.”
“He knows he’s going to be called to pinch-hit,” Crews said, “so he’s down in the locker room taking swings and deciding whether he’s going to leave on his Oaks or not.”
Just the day before in the second game of the Ole Miss series, Travinski got his first start of the season with a flawless 125-pitch catching performance and an RBI single.
Since his initial start at Ole Miss, he has started 15 (12 as a catcher, 2 as a designated hitter, 1 as a first baseman) of the 17 games he has appeared, hitting .431 (25 of 58) with 22 RBIs, 18 runs, three doubles and eight homers.
Travinski slammed a homer in each of LSU’s final five SEC series including two vs. Georgia. In the Tigers’ three-game stay in the league tourney, he batted .538 (7 for 13) with three RBIs and three runs and a career-best 4-for-4 against Arkansas.
“I had a problem in the past really trying to force things to make something happen,” Travinski said. “Now, I know what I’m capable of, I trust myself. I just want to let it happen.
“My swing decisions are a lot better. I’m not chasing as much. I just like to react.”
That approach has him as LSU’s hottest hitter entering the Tigers’ push toward the College World Series.
Contact Ron at email@example.com