Mizzou baseball players perform knighting ceremony behind on-air interview
During Missouri’s series-opening win over South Carolina in late April, a few MU players started a college baseball phenomenon.
Tigers pitcher Jacob Cantleberry had thrown six strong innings against the Gamecocks, a performance that merited a postgame interview, and three of his teammates — Tyler LaPlane, Ty Olejnik and Trevor Mallett — wanted to mess with him. As LaPlante and his teammates brainstormed ideas during the game, a recent Game of Thrones episode came up. In the show, character Jaime Lannister knights fellow warrior Brienne of Tarth in a moving ceremony. The Tigers decided they would reenact the scene behind Cantleberry.
The team had a toy sword in its dugout for over a month, a prop the Tigers used for a previous postgame sketch at Texas A&M that resembled a sword fight. So that was one component. Another teammate’s water bottle served as a chalice. And a batting helmet served as armor.
“It was one of those things,” LaPlante said, “where we found one item and said how could we make this work?”
Freshman outfielder Josh Holt, whom the trio used in some of the earlier sketches this season, was chosen to play Brienne. TV commentators tried to keep their composure while Cantleberry talked about the game.
“A good night for you and I think somebody knighted behind you,” commentator Ben Arnet told Cantleberry as he wrapped up the postgame conversation.
The day after Cantleberry’s start, the Missouri players set up a boxing match while starter T.J. Sikemma talked about his seven inning, no-hit performance in an 11-0 win over the Gamecocks.
“The thing we started preaching is let’s have fun,” MU coach Steve Bieser told The Star. “Winning is fun. They’ve taken it to a whole other level. I’m waiting to see what they come up with next.”
Missouri, ranked No. 21 nationally by Baseball America, heads into to Nashville to face No. 2 Vanderbilt this weekend. The Tigers are in position to make their first NCAA Tournament regional since joining the Southeastern Conference in 2012 and boasts one of the nation’s best pitching staffs. Yet their postgame antics have drawn the most attention.
Missouri’s most recent sketches have aired on SportsCenter and the Today Show.
When Bieser first heard about the trio’s behavior, he tried to discourage it. TV interviews are hard enough for some players. But Bieser understands the importance of publicity. His program’s attendance figures regularly rank last in the Southeastern Conference, and he’s campaigning for more fans to show up for the Tigers’ final home series against Florida on May 17.
“It’s getting the Mizzou name out there,” said MU outfielder Kameron Misner, a projected first-round pick in June’s MLB Draft.
As the team continued to win and the sketches became increasingly popular, the rest of the roster has started to participate.
The players said that they don’t brainstorm until the game is underway. A postgame interview doesn’t come without a win, which usually isn’t secure until the late innings. When thinking of ideas that could work, the players made an ally on Bieser’s staff. Athletic trainer Brett Sigley has helped the players acquire props.
“You come up with this little idea,” LaPlante said, “and it evolves into something bigger and better.”
In an attempt to make that boxing match that took place behind Sikemma as realistic as possible, Sigley tracked down a pair of mouthguards. LaPlante realized the buckets used to store baseballs made for good stools. He wore a skimpy T-shirt around his jersey and held a sign overhead — his best impression of a ring girl.
The guys still had to find a pair of players to box, though. After a quick look around the dugout, the trio surmised that sophomore outfielders Alex and Clayton Peterson, a pair of identical twins, were the ideal candidates. Both are 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, which puts them in the same weight class.
“It was the perfect fight,” Olejnik said.
LaPlante has been out for over a month because of a left elbow injury, and Bieser expects him to return soon. Mallett is MU’s backup catcher while Olejnik, a freshman, is behind a few upperclassmen in the outfield. When Bieser first heard that the trio was responsible for the sketches, it came as a slight surprise to him.
“That’s a strange group,” he said. “If LaPlante was still in the everyday pitching role, he wouldn’t be one of those key guys there. It’s those guys that have a little time on their hands.”
When Missouri traveled to No. 23 Tennessee this past weekend for a three-game series, the group had more ideas planned but had to scratch them after a weather delay threw the TV broadcast off schedule. MU took two out of three games from the Volunteers, but no one got to see the Tigers’ latest ideas: a fishing sketch and a zumba class.
Back in Columbia a few days later, Mallett explained what he had in mind.
“Someone throws the bat out there like a fishing pole, someone hops in and guys carry him over and weigh him,” he said.
Should the Tigers pull win in Nashville this weekend, Mallett said the team will have less to work with, as visitor’s locker rooms offer fewer props.
The Tigers hope that, in some way, their sketches help draw more fans out for next weekend’s series against Florida. The team has no plans to cut the antics during MU’s likely appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to bring out all the stops,” LaPlante said.