By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Editor’s note: This is the third of three profiles on the wives of LSU’s head coaches, featuring Karen Mainieri, from the latest issue of Tiger Rag Extra, which you can find on newsstands across Baton Rouge now. Read part one on Kathy Miles here, and part two on Kelli Jones here.
In most families, it’s the children who go away for college, leaving their possibly teary-eyed parents at home.
The Mainieris aren’t most families.
When Paul accepted the LSU job in 2006, Karen was thrilled for many reasons. It was a return home for a woman West Bank born-and-raised. She and Paul actually met at LSU, frequently bumping into each other on campus and in classes.
“I have a feeling he knew my schedule,” she says.
But there was one downside to a Louisiana move. Three of the four Mainieri children were enrolled in college in Indiana. So Paul’s decision to leave Notre Dame for LSU was, in some regard, bittersweet – albeit mostly sweet.
“I kept telling myself, kids go away to college every day and leave their homes,” Karen says. “This was just the other way around. It totally represented Paul’s career in a big circle of success, coming home. We are so lucky.”
The destination might be home, but baseball has brought Karen around the world, which, it’s safe to say, is something she never saw coming. Traveling the world, of course, was always a dream of hers. She just didn’t know baseball would be the vehicle.
“I only aspired to travel and see the world,” she says of her childhood dreams. “I remember going anywhere anyone would take me. My father worked for an oil company, and he traveled the world. I remember the beautiful dolls he would bring my sisters and I. I always want to just go. Just go anywhere.”
Baseball only came into the equation later. When she began dating Paul, Karen Fejes attended her first baseball game in the old Alex Box Stadium – the first of many – and thought his position was “left out.”
He was playing left field.
Karen describes her prior knowledge of America’s past time as: “Zero. Nada. Nothing. I knew absolutely nothing about the game of baseball.”
“I had no idea at that point in time what to expect from the game of baseball or our future as a coach’s family,” she says. “I’m actually happy I didn’t understand it all, so I definitely learned something new every day. I’m actually glad I didn’t have expectations. It made the journey ever more sweet.”
That journey wasn’t always sweet. Balancing baseball and matrimony is as difficult a task as there is, considering the sheer number of games and amount of traveling required by the sport, compared to others.
[su_pullquote align=”right” class=”wide”]
“The only place [Paul] is not the boss is in his own home,” Karen laughs. “I am!”
“Early in our relationship, I would have to say our biggest challenge came from being apart,” Karen says. “Our first year of marriage, he was still playing minor league ball, and I was a flight attendant, so we hardly saw each other. Now looking back, I realize that that time was actually preparing us well for a future filled with an unconventional home life, where your livelihood depends on so many things, some in your control and many not, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and have no regrets.”
These days, Karen focuses her attention both at home – “the only place he is not the boss is in his own home,” she laughs. “I am!” – and in the community. The Mainieris are active in Cancer Services, the ALS Association, the Kelli Richmond Ovarian Cancer Foundation, the Prostate Awareness Cancer Event, MDA, the Mikie Mahtook Foundation, and the Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, among others. Paul’s position affords them a platform to give back.
“Paul supports my passions and interests wholeheartedly, whether it involves our children, or our home, or my friendships,” she says. “Believe it or not, he is a good listener. I usually can persuade him if I need to. I usually get whatever I want.”
That coy back-and-forth is a staple of the Maineri marriage, which is equal parts give-and-take. There are sacrifices, to be sure, namely time away from home for Paul. But Karen wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The most rewarding thing of being a coach’s wife is the knowledge that your spouse gets to do exactly what he has always wanted to do in and with his life,” she says. “Not many people get to have that opportunity. Baseball has allowed me a life of all good things, including living in all parts of our nation, lifelong friendships, opening up a world that I could’ve never experienced had I not been a coach’s wife, a life that I am so blessed to have, no matter how difficult our road can become at times. All great jobs come with their challenges, and I love that.”
The Karen Mainieri File
- Spouse: Paul Mainieri, LSU Baseball Coach
- Children: Nicholas, Alexandra, Samantha, Thomas
- Hometown: New Orleans, La.
- You Might Not Know: Worked as a flight attendant after college