ESPN and SEC Network college baseball analyst Ben McDonald is arguably one of the greatest college baseball players of all time. One of four LSU Tigers to have his baseball jersey retired by the school, McDonald helped lay the foundation of what the LSU baseball program would become.
But that legacy wouldn’t have happened without the vision of a man who would change the game forever: Skip Bertman, who is the focus of the latest SEC Storied film, “Hold the Rope” (tonight, May 24 | 7 ET | SEC Network).
McDonald is always quick to turn any attention he receives back to his beloved coach, a man who convinced him to turn down one of the best baseball programs in the country, Mississippi State, to take a chance on what Bertman was building at LSU in the mid-1980s.
“This film is all about Skip, and any time you can be a part of the legacy of the guy that changed college baseball, it’s really special,” McDonald said. “When I was a kid, I used to go over there and sneak into the ballpark, and there’d be more pigeons flying around than there were people in the stands. It was girlfriends, parents, and maybe a few people who didn’t have anything else to do. It was a nothing program.
The "Mount Rushmore" of Tiger Baseball! The four men whose baseball jerseys have been retired by LSU – @realbenmcdonald, Skip Bertman, @EddyFurniss and @ToddWalker12. They're in Baton Rouge this weekend celebrating Skip's 80th birthday! pic.twitter.com/riY8bqljhy
— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) May 13, 2018
“We were the stepping stones to what would later come,” McDonald continued. “We never won a College World Series, but we went twice, and then they won five national titles in a decade. So just to be a part of arguably the greatest college baseball coach there ever was, a guy who was a visionary for where he thought college baseball could go and how he could grow it, it’s really cool when you think about where the program came from and where it is now.”
Part of Bertman’s coaching style, highlighted in the film, was the physical aspect of having pride in a program. His players not only practiced hard, but they put sweat equity into “The Box,” the home of LSU baseball and a place that now bears Bertman’s name as “Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.”
“The things we used to do there… we were the grounds crew, we cleaned the bathrooms, we painted the stadium, we did everything there,” McDonald notes. “We built a lot of pride in the program, because we built it from the ground up. So to see where it is today, and getting to call games there over the years, it’s extra special.”
Why is @LSUbaseball different?
This is the world premiere event for “Hold the Rope” at @LAubergeBR
A documentary has larger attendance than some weekend series. Unreal! pic.twitter.com/Znm8gbPTbk
— Matt Moscona (@MattMoscona) May 24, 2021
McDonald, who is featured in the film alongside fellow LSU Sports Hall of Famer and SEC Network analyst Todd Walker, shared that even as he and his teammates were building the program in the mid-1980s, no one knew just how important Bertman would become to the sport of college baseball. McDonald and Walker, along with Bertman, are three of the four men to have their baseball jerseys retired at the university.
“When I think about Skip, I just think of a visionary,” McDonald said. “Playing for him at the time, nobody knew what was eventually going to happen, that he would become one of the greatest coaches of all time. He changed college baseball forever.”
I’ve said this before, but I really feel like Skip is probably the most important sports figure to ever be acquainted with LSU. Because you look at what he did as a baseball coach, and then as an athletic director, and I truly feel he’s the most important person in the history of LSU Athletics. – McDonald
The special bond between Bertman and his players reverberates throughout the film as more than 50 former players, colleagues, and competitors help shape the story of Bertman’s legacy at LSU.
The connection Bertman made with each of his players has continued for decades, as many came to celebrate his 83rd birthday and the world premiere of “Hold the Rope” in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday evening.
As the film makes its SEC Network debut on the eve of the 2021 SEC Baseball Tournament, it’s clear that Bertman’s impact on the sport has helped make SEC Baseball into what it is today.
“You can see his mark all across the sport right now,” McDonald said. “I’ve said this before, but I really feel like Skip is probably the most important sports figure to ever be acquainted with LSU. Because you look at what he did as a baseball coach, and then as an athletic director, and I truly feel he’s the most important person in the history of LSU Athletics.”