The next documentary in the SEC Storied series is “Hold the Rope,” the story of legendary LSU baseball head coach Skip Bertman and his quest to turn the Bayou Bengals into a perennial power. The hour-long film debuts on Monday, May 24 at 7 p.m. ET on SEC Network.
When Bertman arrived in Baton Rouge in the summer of 1983, LSU baseball was considered an afterthought. The Tigers were lucky to draw 500 fans per game to aging Alex Box Stadium, a relic of the 1930s. As for the team on the field, they were mired in mediocrity and hadn’t reached the postseason since 1975.
From those beginnings, Bertman turned the program into a powerhouse, winning five national championships from 1991-2000. A new stadium, with the field named after him, stands 200 yards away from where the Tiger baseball dynasty was born, and more than 10,000 fans a game come out to make LSU the NCAA leader in attendance every year for the past two decades. “Hold the Rope” focuses on Bertman’s overhaul of the LSU program inside and out, culminating in the Tigers’ first College World Series title in 1991.
As part of the rebuild, Bertman and assistant coach Raymond “Smoke” Laval came up with “The Big 60,” a list of five dozen things that needed to be done to turn the program around. That list, fully crossed out and laminated, was used as a motivation tool throughout Bertman’s tenure. The changes ranged from the type of dirt on the field to the lights in the parking lot. A team that was used to having the day off for Mardi Gras in the bayou now had a two-mile run at 6 o’clock in the morning, and would paint the stadium when they weren’t having four-hour practices.
Bertman was also a master at visualization techniques – from seeing the hit coming in the next at-bat to picturing the skylines of Omaha and Rosenblatt Stadium in June. “Hold the Rope” was a consistent team motto that encapsulated the trust and unity that Bertman instilled in the teams he coached.
The film, directed by award-winning filmmaker Marc Kinderman, features interviews with Bertman and his wife Sandy, LSU Athletics Hall of Famers Ben McDonald, Todd Walker and Jason Williams, Miami Sports Hall of Famers Doug Shields and Danny Smith, as well as current LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri, NCAA President and former LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert, and former Wichita State head coach Gene Stephenson, who had epic College World Series battles with Bertman and the Bayou Bengals.
“Skip Bertman was much more than a coach, he really was an impresario of college baseball in taking both LSU and the sport to new heights on and off the field,” said Kinderman. “In going back through the teams he coached, I saw so much of the love and respect his players had for Skip. Whether it was Miami Beach High, the University of Miami or LSU, it was easy to see how much Skip means to his former players.
“I learned a lot about Skip’s attention to detail in the instruction manual he gave to each player,” Kinderman continued. “Exactly what to do, to the letter, both at the plate and in the field – and how to carry yourself as an LSU Tiger – that manual helped so much in getting insight into who Skip was as a person.”
For more than two decades, Kinderman has been telling stories for ESPN and others in and out of the sports world. Kinderman began his career at ESPN after college graduation cutting highlights for SportsCenter before producing features for the show. He then moved on to producing episodes of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning SportsCentury project in the late 90s and early 2000s, before producing shows for ESPN Original Entertainment over the course of a decade. His last project for ESPN prior to “Hold The Rope” was a 2016 30 for 30 short on LSU’s Rudy Macklin, No Kin to Me, which was then expanded into a half-hour SEC Storied for SEC Network in 2019. The co-creator of Orange Lion Productions in 2000, Kinderman has worked on projects for A&E, CNBC, Versus, USA Today/Mojo, NHL Network and Big Ten Network. Orange Lion also produced ESPN’s 40, a series of first-person stories on ESPN’s history, in 2019.
SEC Network’s signature coverage of SEC baseball continues following the debut of “Hold the Rope.” The SEC Baseball Tournament will have a homecoming in Hoover beginning Tuesday, May 25, with first pitch through the semifinals live on SEC Network, as well as live, on-site analysis and reporting with SEC Now. The championship game will be televised live on ESPN2 at 3 p.m.