Barker shows up everyday to give his best for Tigers By CARL DUBOIS Advocate sportswriter Advocate staff photo by Travis Spradling LSU outfielder Sean Barker leads the Tigers with a .392 batting average and 50 RBIs. Sean Barker wasn't an everyday player last season. This season, the LSU right fielder is the very definition of the term. Barker is LSU's only player to start all 52 games. When the Tigers end the regular season this weekend at home against Alabama, LSU will pay tribute to 10 seniors, including Barker, the team's iron man for 2002. Barker and fellow senior outfielder Matt Heath are the only Tigers to play in every game, but Barker has logged the most playing time. He missed just one inning, the ninth inning of a 13-0 victory April 30 over the University of New Orleans, so freshman Rhett Buteau could play right field. Heath has missed the equivalent of a full game. He sat out most of LSU's 8-5 win Sunday at Florida before pinch hitting in the eighth inning and hitting a critical three-run home run. He also missed an inning in March because of a minor injury and was ejected late in another game for arguing an umpire's call. In terms of consistency and durability, though, Barker has easily been the team's one constant. He's first in batting average (.392), runs batted in (52), total bases (111) and stolen bases (20-for-24), but those numbers only tell part of the story. His average hasn't been below .333 all season. He's had hitting streaks of six, seven, eight and nine straight games, in that order chronologically. Barker has hit safely in 32 of his last 38 games. The one time in that span he was held hitless in back-to-back games, the Tigers lost both games. Like LSU shortstop Aaron Hill and third baseman Wally Pontiff, Barker has been dependable in a season marked by inconsistency throughout the rest of the Tigers lineup. "He and Aaron show up almost every day," Laval said, talking about performance, not attendance. "You know what you're going to get most of the time. Wally's been right there too, but everybody else has been up and down." Barker, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound native of Bakersfield, Calif., came to LSU in the fall of 2000 after playing at Bakersfield Community College. He played on a part-time basis last season, when the Tigers used several players in right field. He had only 80 at-bats last season, but he stood out with a .562 slugging percentage, one of the highest on the team. The Toronto Blue Jays picked him in the 46th round of the amateur draft last June. But Barker said he came back to LSU for a chance to play in a College World Series, and he's glad he's been able to play in every game. "It's a real honor to play and start every day for LSU, and I take real pride in that," Barker said. "I try to stay healthy for as long as I can to help this team win. Sometimes you have a little nagging injury that you're not going to say anything about, and you have to play through those. "I've had a couple of those this year, but the team really needs me." That's because LSU is short on outfielders. The Tigers lost freshman Jay Mattox early in the season to an injury, and others who were expected to play some in the outfield haven't developed as quickly as planned. LSU lost pitchers Jason Determann and Chad Vaught to arm injuries, and pitcher Jake Tompkins was out briefly with a pulled muscle in his side. The most costly error of the season came when Hill missed eight games with a separated shoulder, and his absence marked the beginning of the low point of the season. But most of the team has played without serious injury, something the Tigers link to hard work and good habits under the eye of the coaching staff and LSU Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Jim Nowell. "When you have good teams or great teams, you stay injury-free," Laval said. "You've got to have it -- especially with your go-to guys." Barker fits that description. He started the season by going 9-for-15 in a three-game series against Birmingham-Southern College, and 11 games into the season his average was above the .400 mark. Right field isn't a high-risk position, and playing there daily doesn't take as high a toll on the body as does catching or playing a middle-infield position. But Barker keeps himself in good shape and is always doing the right things from a health and conditioning standpoint, LSU Assistant Trainer Shawn Eddy said. "I've never seen him slack off in any respect there," Eddy said. In his most recent hitting streak, which ended Saturday at Florida, Barker was 22-for-40 with 13 RBIs over nine games. The Tigers won eight of those games. That streak started April 23 against the University of Louisiana at Monroe. A few days before that game, in which Barker was 4-for-5 with five RBIs, he and Laval worked on shortening his swing, a change that has paid big dividends. "There's too much room for error when you've got a long swing," LSU hitting coach Turtle Thomas said. "Your swing's too long in the back side and you get a slower, longer swing that doesn't snap the barrel of the bat straight to the ball. "You mis-hit a lot of balls when you're long. You get jammed a lot when you're long. You just don't hit the center of the baseball with the barrel of the bat often enough when you've got a long swing." Barker credits the more compact swing with fueling his most recent hot streak. "I think that's really helped me, staying on top of the ball and hitting hard ground balls and line drives," Barker said. "When you do that, you get a couple of balls that fly out of the park like I had against Tennessee." Before that series May 4-5, during which Barker had two home runs and a span of six straight at-bats with a base hit, the coaches worked with him on using his hands more in his swing, as opposed to his body and shoulders carrying most of the work load. "It's an ongoing process with every hitter," Thomas said. "But you can see right now Sean's really hitting the ball well." Barker doesn't have many lows to balance his highs, but Pontiff said he likes how Barker seems to stay on an even keel the way Laval preaches. "You never want to get too low or too high, because it's a humbling game," Pontiff said. "He's really mastered that aspect of the game." Hill said he thinks part of the reason is because Barker always walks -- on and off the field -- with an air of confidence, his head high. "If I didn't know this team and I saw him out there," Hill said, "I could say, 'That's one of their best players,' just the way he carries himself. If you don't have confidence in yourself, this game will kill you. You have to be cocky inside, even though you don't show it outside. "Be confident like he is and the game will treat you well." It might even let you play every day.