Paul Skenes prepares to throw a pitch.
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LSU Ace Paul Skenes Wears No. 20 For a Special Reason

LSU ace Paul Skenes is lighting up radar guns on the mound, and he has a meaningful reason behind the jersey number he chose.

Paul Skenes is the face of a very good LSU Tigers baseball team, and that's saying something considering the talent in Baton Rouge. His pitching repertoire consists of a 100 MPH fastball and a wipeout slider that makes Ultimate Frisbee players jealous. He can also launch balls 400 feet, though he stopped doing that when he arrived on campus.

Fans at Alex Box Stadium had fun watching the man who wears No. 20 for the Purple and Gold all season. It's the reason that Skenes chose that jersey number, plus a unique cause he's partook in all season, that fans of all backgrounds can appreciate.

Skenes, who transferred from the Air Force Academy after his sophomore year, is honoring two former Air Force baseball players who passed away.

How Paul Skenes Honors His Fallen Friends

Travis Wilkie was a catcher for Air Force who graduated in 2018. In November 2019, he died during a training accident between two jets at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. He was one of two airmen to die in the mishap.

Wilkie wore No. 20 while playing for Air Force, which is why Skenes chose to wear the same number at LSU.

Unfortunately, Wilkie wasn't the only Air Force player to pass away in the last few years. In June 2021, Nick Duran died in a single-engine plane crash. He would have graduated in 2023.

"It's a personal thing for a lot of people, but we had two baseball players pass away in the last couple of years," Skenes told Tiger TV. "2018 grad Travis Wilkie who wore number 20, and what would've been a 2023 grad, would be graduating this year, Nick Duran. He passed away two summers ago."

"He was a lively dude," Skenes said of Wilkie. "He was crazy, but you could tell he loved life, loved the military, and his wife is flying A-10's right now, but thats why I wear number 20."

Skenes is also honoring both of those men by donating $10 to Folds of Honor for every strikeout of his this season. The nonprofit organization's mission is to provide "scholarships to family members of military and first responders who died or are disabled."

Skenes has donated a lot of money, because he's racked up an even 200 strikeouts as of Thursday, June 22. That's way more than anyone else in the NCAA.

Paul Skenes: LSU's Two-Way Monster

Skenes stands a ridiculous 6-foot-6 and 247 pounds. That frame has MLB scouts naturally drooling. In his first outing for LSU, he dominated Western Michigan by striking out 12 over six innings. Many start later, he dealt against Tennessee in the Men's College World Series, throwing 7.2 innings and striking out 12.

That should surprise no one that followed his career at Air Force the last two seasons, both of which he was a First-Team All-American. Last year, he won the 2022 John Olerud Award after hitting .314 with 13 home runs while maintaining a 2.96 ERA over 85.2 innings on the mound. And the year prior, he was the Collegiate Baseball National Co-Freshman of the Year (alongside current LSU teammate Dylan Crews) after hitting .410 at the plate.

Skenes hasn't even need to step to the plate for the Tigers, but his easy power could be used in a pinch-hitting situation.

Skenes' talent and body are why he will play in Major League Baseball. Mock drafts already have him going in the top five, but he could play his way to the No. 1 overall spot this season.

It's those dreams of Skenes that contributed to him transferring to LSU. He had to transfer before his junior season or else he could potentially have been enlisted to serve.

"So even if you're still in Minor League Baseball, Major League Baseball. If you're still in the Air Force, they can pull it away from you, which isn't a super common thing but you see it occasionally," Skenes told The Daily Advertiser. "I didn't want anyone to take it out from under me."

With a new school, team and stadium, Paul Skenes has all the runway in the world in front of him. All that's left is to do what he's always done: dominate.

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