The contrast was hard to miss.
LSU superfan Anita Haywood, known as "The K Lady" because she stands and holds a K sign every time an LSU pitcher strikes out an opponent, shied away from the microphone when I began interviewing her in the parking lot at TD Ameritrade Park before the LSU/UNC elimination game. She just didn’t seem quite comfortable talking about herself. She answered my questions politely and with depth, but once I turned off the microphone she went into full LSU support mode.
"Geaux Tigers!" she screamed toward LSU fans nearby, prompting them to respond in kind.
Haywood’s fandom is legendary at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, and beyond, as she spreads the LSU gospel. Unfortunately for her, her first trip to TD Ameritrade Park was cut short after the Tigers lost their first two games of the 2013 CWS. She will live to cheer another day. But if you don’t know her story, it’s an endearing one.
"I started hanging Ks a long time ago, when Ben McDonald started pitching for LSU," she told me. "At the time, they were paper Ks and after coming up to Omaha and hanging paper Ks for the 1991 championship team, an elderly man in Baton Rouge made me a set of wooden Ks."
Haywood ran into a problem when she returned to Rosenblatt in 1993 with her new wooden Ks though.
"Brett Laxton had 16 Ks in the championship, and I only had 15," she said. "So I had to scramble. One of my friends helped me find paper and a magic marker. We used bubble gum to hold it up, but we were able to hang the 16th K."
Haywood used to hang her K signs on the stadium railing at Rosenblatt. One year, "a very, very mean man" who was working the gate at Rosenblatt would not allow her to bring her set of wooden Ks into the stadium, so she began to bring in one and she held it high.
She and her husband, Richard, have been to every CWS that LSU has played in since 1991, which means they made trips in 1991, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’97, ‘98, 2000, ‘03, ’04, ’08, ’09 and now ‘13. Of those appearances, the Haywoods have celebrated six national championships.
As is the case with so many LSU fans, the Haywoods have made a number of friends in Omaha. They met Don Barry, who happens to be a friend of mine as well, at a CWS game at Rosenblatt and eventually became lifelong friends with him.
"She’s one of the greatest fans of any team I’ve met," Barry told me. "She and Richard have always been hospitable. Every time my wife and I go down there, they invite us into their home. If they are tailgating, they invite us to enjoy some food and a cocktail or soda. Friendships that are built over the years, you want to keep those."
Barry often bowls in tournaments around the country and once in a while he’ll end up bowling in Baton Rouge. Richard and Anita are always there to support him.
I was curious to find out how one becomes known as The K Lady. Haywood answered my question with a funny story. One night, she and her husband got up to leave an LSU game early because they had a young child to put to bed on a school night. Apparently LSU was losing.
"Jim Hawthorne, our play-by-play announcer, said, ‘Even the K Lady has picked up her Ks and is headed for the house.’ My mouth just dropped and I looked at my husband and said, ‘He’s talking about me. I was born and raised in this town. I’m a teacher. I cannot have people badmouthing me on the air.’ So from that day on, we always had to take two cars to the stadium – one for me so I could go home after the game and one for him so he could leave and take the kids home and put them in bed."
In all seriousness, she does have some detractors – people who aren’t crazy about her boisterous antics, even in Omaha.
"Omaha fans are awesome, except for my one ‘friend’ who always says, ‘Down in front’ every time I stand up to show my K," she said. "But that’s alright. This year he found me in the stands and he came to tell me hello. So I know he really loves me."
"I think her actions during games are great," Barry said. "She’s truly enthusiastic and into every pitch. Her reactions are perfectly normal. I expect a fan to react that way. I don’t expect a fan to sit on their hands and just be quiet all the time. You’ve got to get up and cheer and yell. To me, that’s what it’s all about – her getting into it and supporting the team."
Given that the Tigers haven’t qualified for the CWS since 2009, this is the first time Haywood and her husband have been to TD Ameritrade Park. So what does the Rosenblatt Stadium veteran think about the new ballpark?
"It’s beautiful, it’s comfortable, but it’s not as intimate, so it loses some of that Rosenblatt feeling," she said. "And I found out that after yelling the other night as loud as I could, people two sections over couldn’t even hear me. So that kind of takes away some of the fun."