BRADENTON, Fla. — Paul Skenes signed for $9.2 million last month, a record for a Major League Baseball draft pick. The College World Series champion at LSU is now a consensus top-five prospect across the sport and has drawn regular comparisons to electric college arms such as Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.
Oh, and he carries the hope of an entire city on his shoulders.
Yet as beloved as Skenes has been among the Pirates fan base, the prized pitching prospect is probably only the second-most popular person in his current relationship. His girlfriend, LSU gymnast and social media sensation Livvy Dunne, has 12 million followers on TikTok and Instagram combined. Her platform is nothing short of gigantic, her endorsement deals routinely massive.
In discussing his burgeoning pro career and the staggering amount of attention he and Dunne have already received around Bradenton, where the right-handed starter has been pitching for the Low-A Marauders, Skenes said one of the most enjoyable parts of their relationship remains an ability to understand one another.
Even if they’re not often permitted to function as normal members of society.
“It’s nice, for sure,” Skenes said. “It can be a pain in the butt sometimes, to be honest, in terms of actually going somewhere. If one of us went out in Baton Rouge [La.] by ourselves, there’s probably gonna be someone there asking for something — picture, autograph, whatever.
“It’s nice to be able to have that conversation. She does get it. I do wish she could come to a baseball game and just enjoy it. It does irk me. I don’t have any control over it. She really doesn’t either. I’m sure it’ll get better as I go up levels, but that’s something I want for her.”
Skenes’ comments were likely rooted in what happened to Dunne at LECOM Park when Paul made his affiliated-ball debut on Tuesday night. Dunne was originally in the seats behind home plate but wound up watching from the broadcast booth when fan harassment became too much. (To be fair, Dunne did interact with plenty who were not offensive or obnoxious.)
Although Dunne traveled back to LSU on Thursday, she had been with Skenes in Florida — fighting traffic for road games and watching anonymously from half-empty Single-A ballparks, embracing baseball life, learning more about the sport and supporting Paul in the early stages of his professional journey.
The two started dating, Skenes said, because his best friend at LSU was dating Dunne’s roommate and regular TikTok sidekick, Elena Marenas.
“Just a small-world type of thing,” Skenes said.
As much as Skenes’ relationship has been framed by social media — Dunne was the highest-valued women’s college athlete in 2022 and has a seven-figure endorsement deal for name, image and likeness — the kicker is this: The towering pitcher doesn’t want anything to do with it.
He has a Twitter account but will only post anything when logged in from a laptop. He doesn’t keep social media apps on his phone. Skenes intentionally tries to avoid reading what’s said about him or Dunne.
“I wasn’t on it during the season because it’s toxic,” Skenes said. “When you see something positive about you or something negative, it doesn’t matter. There’s no substance to it. It can’t help.”
To further explain his perspective and feelings, Skenes told a couple of stories. One was a lesson he learned from former LSU pitching coach Wes Johnson, who’s now the head coach at Georgia. Skenes described Johnson as a “life coach” on the side and talked about his advice on eliminating distractions. Basically that the positives of social media don’t outweigh the negatives.
Skenes also referenced another LSU start in current Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
“Burrow started 0-2 last year, and somebody mentioned to him that he was getting a lot of hate on social media,” Skenes said. “He was like, ‘I wouldn’t know. I don’t have it.’ That’s the best way that I think you can handle that. If you don’t see any of it, nothing can get in your way.”
The handling of social media, not so surprisingly, has been a big topic of Skenes’ relationship with Dunne. Skenes knows Dunne is criticized more often because of her following. They’re also both aware it’s what they signed up for in life.
But it doesn’t make it any easier to process whenever they try to go to dinner, watch a baseball game in peace or are constantly reminded that social media can often empower the wrong kind of people. To address that last part, Skenes has tried to convert Dunne over to his way of thinking.
“She doesn’t like seeing some of it, too,” Skenes said. “It’s worse for her. I’ve told her, ‘People are gonna write about you. People are gonna write about me. If it rattles you, if it makes you upset, you gotta find a way to either not see it or not get upset over it.’ In my mind, it’s a lot easier to not see it than not get upset over it.”
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This story was originally published August 18, 2023, 8:15 PM.