By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
There’s no event in sports quite like the College World Series.
On the one hand, making the pilgrimage to Omaha is an achievement in and of itself. Making it there is a reward of sorts for a successful season, complete with all the pageantry, pomp and circumstance that comes with it.
On the other, it’s still at its heart an eight-team tournament with a national championship hanging in the balance. The bases at TD Ameritrade are 90 feet apart, the mound is still 60 feet and six inches from home plate and there’s still 27 outs to a game.
For LSU coach Paul Mainieri, the challenge is to make sure his team finds a proper balance of the two.
“When you go to Omaha, it’s a balancing act,” he said Thursday morning before the team departed for the airport. “You want your players to enjoy the experience. You want to make sure they soak it all in. But on the other hand, you want to win.
“There’s no way a season will be considered a failure if you make it to Omaha, but if you come back without the success you’re striving to have, it leaves a little bit of a shallow feeling. I don’t want them to feel that way.”
The coach speaks from experience.
It’s Mainieri’s sixth trip to Omaha, and fifth in 11 seasons at LSU. He captured the 2009 championship, and confirmed what most would suspect: the trip home is much more fulfilling when you get to bring that big trophy back with you.
He’s gone enough to have developed his own set of Omaha rituals. It’s home to the Italian restaurant Lo Sole Mio, one of his favorites, and since Karen Mainieri’s birthday always seems to fall during the trip, so they have dinner there to celebrate the occasion. Paul’s also a noted fan of the Omaha Zoo.
With the exception of starting pitchers Alex Lange and Jared Poche’, plus a handful of rarely-used relievers, this will be a new experience altogether. Of LSU’s position players, only Mike Papierski and Beau Jordan have ever made the trip, and neither recorded an at-bat back in 2015.
Mainieri isn’t particularly concerned.
“Even though only about a third of our team have that Omaha experience,” he began, “the guys all seem cool, calm, excited and confident, more than anything. So I don’t think the stage is going to be too big for them.”
WHO’S ON FIRST?
Mainieri said he had yet to make a decision on who’ll play first base for Saturday’s College World Series opener against Florida State.
It’ll either be freshman Jake Slaughter, who started the last four games along the road to Omaha, or junior Nick Coomes, who overtook Slaughter for the job before suffering a thumb injury in LSU’s NCAA Tournament opener.
STATEMENT ON STEVE SCALISE
The coach began his brief comments to the media with a heartfelt message to Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who remained in critical condition Thursday after Wednesday’s shooting at a baseball field in Virginia.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Congressman Steve Scalise today,” the coach began. “Hopefully he’s recovering well.”
In the wake of the shooting, the university sent official LSU shirts and baseball hats to Washington D.C., which participants will wear in Thursday’s congressional baseball game.
Scalise suffered injuries during a Wednesday morning practice session for the annual game, a charitable contest which has taken place for more than a century. He graduated from LSU in 1989.
“Hopefully it’ll bring a little bit of joy to him and he’ll have a full recovery,” said Mainieri, who has met the congressman several times.
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