LSU's Dylan Crews is 'The Dude' at the center of college baseball's best team
By Ryan McGee,2023-03-30
From the moment Dylan Crews officially decided he would become an LSU Tiger, the Florida-raised outfielder stated he had one goal: to come to Baton Rouge and, in his words, "be a dude there."
Now, 1½ months into his third season patrolling the turf of Alex Box Stadium, Dylan Crews isn't merely a dude. He is The Dude . The anchor of the runaway best team in the nation, the dudest dude on a roster overflowing with dudes, a pack of OG LSU recruits joined by a pack of powerhouse transfers who came to Baton Rouge from the Rockies and the Pacific in no small part seeking to play alongside No. 3. But this isn't simply a Crews crew movement. He's also The Dude who has all of college baseball buzzing, a hum that's becoming harder to hear because it's being drowned out by the chatter reverberating off the walls of MLB front offices. That's why, nearly four months ahead of the mid-July first-year player draft, he's the five-tool, right-handed dude who sits atop many selection spreadsheets.
He has been on their radars since his pandemic-shortened senior year at Lake Mary (Florida) High School in 2020. But he knew he had work to do then, leaving high school with a frustratingly incomplete résumé. Even just one year ago he knew he had more work to do, chasing way too many bad breaking balls. And he didn't want to leave the LSU program as it had even more work to do.
The Tigers are arguably the greatest program of college baseball's modern era, having made 18 men's College World Series appearances since 1986 and winning six MCWS titles. But the last of those rings was won in 2009, the third of Paul Mainieri's 15 seasons at the wheel. That's an eternity by LSU baseball standards, and over the dozen Series since they've had to watch five other SEC schools win a total of seven championships. Last year, four of the eight MCWS participants were SEC schools (plus soon-to-be members Texas and Oklahoma) and none of them were LSU, who hasn't been to Omaha since 2017. Mainieri, who recruited Crews, was sent into retirement after the 2021 season in which LSU went 38-25 (13-17 in conference play). The arrival of Jay Johnson from Arizona had shown promise, but ended in Hattiesburg with an NCAA Regional loss to Southern Miss.
So, the big leagues? Crews figured they weren't going anywhere. So, he decided he wouldn't, either. Yet.
"The one thing I say is that a lot of people took the elevator, but I took the stairs," the soft-spoken, 6-foot, 205-pound junior said through the curl of a polite, confident grin. "We're all going to end up at the same place, but I took a different route and it's the route that I chose. I'm here at LSU and having the best time of my life."
Here's what a stat line looks like from The Dude having the best time of his life: 25 games, 25 starts, 45 hits, 9 homers, 10 doubles, 48 runs scored, 32 RBIs, 82 total bases, 47 putouts with zero errors in the field, a slugging percentage of .988 and ... OK, here's the number everyone's waiting for ... a batting average of .542.
Last weekend his No. 1 Tigers hosted No. 6 Arkansas and all he did was post three straight multihit games, going a combined 8-for-13 with a homer in each contest along with 7 RBIs and 7 runs. The weekend before he opened the defense of his co-SEC Player of the Year title by raking six hits, a pair of homers, 5 RBIs and 7 runs against then-No. 15 Texas A&M. So, there's no reason to believe he won't do something similarly awesome this weekend when the Tigers host perhaps the most anticipated home series of the season, against No. 10 Tennessee.
Because that's how this Dude rolls.
"I don't think people really understand the true impact he has on the program outside of being a five-tool talent," explained Thatcher Hurd, one of those high-profile transfer arrivals, coming to Baton Rouge after a season on the mound at Jackie Robinson Stadium for UCLA. "You come in and you're like, 'What's Dylan Crews about?' He's got everything. He's the best player in the country, and he's truly a better person than a player. And that says a lot. ... People worry about how we're going to manage a lot of good talent, managing egos. And I think it really all starts with him. He's super humble. He leads by example. And he leads with his words."
The 21-year-old has always led by example. It's the words that are new to his dugout repertoire. Explosive as he is on the diamond, he can be highly introverted elsewhere in life. At home, roommate and righty pitcher Ty Floyd said college baseball's best player can be found meticulously polishing his endless supply of custom cleats (he really loves his neon SpongeBob kicks) or working on Lego sets, most recently the Avengers' "Infinity Gauntlet."
"I can't sit still for 10 minutes just to build a Lego set. I don't know how he sits there for an hour or two building the whole thing," Floyd said. "He's like, 'I love it.' Oof. Good for you. That's that focus. Then he'll go to the ballpark and get three hits and a homer that goes out of the ballpark. Turns it on and off."
When Hurd and his fellow transfers arrived over summer and were joined by a group of highly touted new signees, The Dude had his newfound captain's voice turned on. He met them all at the clubhouse door and went teammate-to-teammate, those he knew well and those he'd just met, explaining the LSU workout schedule, summer and fall practice plan and then where they were all going to dinner. And lunch. And breakfast.
"I think that's what's different about this team compared to the last two teams is how close we are," Crews said, confessing that he has had to work to become more vocal. "My whole life I've been leader by doing, a leader by example. That works when you're a freshman and I didn't really have a senior year of high school. But now I speak up. To me, that's been as big a piece of my development as even the on-field stuff."
"The baseball part is easy to see. I have never seen a player as complete as him in college baseball. Usually, those guys sign out of high school," said Johnson, who led Arizona to Omaha in the first and last of his five seasons in Tucson. "But it's the other stuff. It's the mental game. How he prepares, how he handles success, how he handles the minimal failure that he has and ability to get right back to doing what he does is special. And it's leadership. He's really found his voice and the players respect him so much because of the player he is, the person he is, that when he speaks, they really listen and follow."
Said Crews, "Everybody's their own leader in their own way, so doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a senior, we are all keeping each other focused. It's pretty special to see. It is a lot of work, but it is also pretty fun."
Those around Crews can attest his work ethic has never been an issue at any point in his young life. Even during his preteen years when he first started working with a personal swing coach in his homeland of baseball-mad Central Florida. When hours per day taking cuts in a cinder-block garage weren't enough, his parents found an indoor batting facility and school that had been fashioned from an abandoned car dealership. When that wasn't enough and little Dylan got twitchy around the house his father, George, founder and owner of a commercial printing company, built a batting cage in the backyard. When that wasn't enough, and even hitting the road with a high-level travel team didn't satiate the teen's hardball hunger, George and wife Kim, a nurse, worked with his school to create a so-called "Dylan Rule" that heavily front-loaded his academic schedule each morning so that he could spend his afternoons at the nearby TXNL Baseball Academy.
"You can go to the academy full time, but I also wanted to have a normal high school student experience, as much as I could anyway," Crews said, chuckling. "So, my parents did what they always do and they worked to make it work. I am so fortunate to have them, supporting me no matter what it takes."
These days it takes an RV, or more accurately, a motorcoach, which George and Kim Crews bought as soon as their boy moved to Baton Rouge. They purchased it secondhand from a tailgate-loving Alabama Crimson Tide fan, who was happy to sell them the rig but refused their request and payment to redo the crimson décor and replace it with purple and gold. Now they steer that RV (they did the makeover themselves) wherever the Tigers and their boy are playing ball, making the drive from the Orlando suburbs to all points Southeastern. During LSU home games they work with their son to host families who have children with special needs, something the family hopes to continue to do as Dylan moves up the baseball ladder.
"He's such a great baseball player, but then he's also like the nicest, kindest guy, it almost makes you mad," Floyd joked. "But it's also a genuine privilege to know him and to watch him play. It's next-level stuff and it's awesome to see everyone else kind of discover the guy we already know."
Those discoverers include the LSU icons who came before him. One by one, they have reached out, unofficially welcoming him into their club. Crews rolls off their names, the ones he wants to be listed among when he departs for the big leagues in July: Odell Beckham Jr., Shaquille O'Neal and the baseball player he talked to three years ago, when he was wrestling with whether or not to enter the MLB draft out of high school, Alex Bregman. You know, the dudes of their time.
"The reason I came here is to win a national championship, to put a new year up on that Intimidator," he said of the legendarily gargantuan scoreboard that towers over the left field of the Box.
And that's what makes Dylan Crews indeed The Dude.
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