LSU coach Paul Mainieri had a secret to keep, and he was doing a poor job of it.
In big, bold letters between the lines of his 45-minute season-wrapping news conference this past Thursday, highlighted in neon and circled twice: Mainieri is coaching the U.S. Collegiate National Team this summer, and he is taking Antoine Duplantis, Zack Hess and Zach Watson with him.
LSU confirmed as much Wednesday when it announced the trio's selection in a news release.
Mainieri was hoping to release the news Thursday, but first had to await approval from the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox, who drafted Duplantis, Hess and Watson in the 19th, 34th and 40th rounds.
All are planning to return to LSU for 2019, but those clubs retained the rights to sign the players through the July 6 signing deadline.
“Certainly, I’m very pleased that Antoine, Zack and Zach will be with Team USA this summer,” Mainieri said Wednesday in a university news release. “They are great ball players and first-class young men that will represent our country with dignity. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for them, and they will benefit tremendously from the experience.”
As some of college baseball's brightest stars started filling out Mainieri's roster this summer — Texas A&M's Braden Shewmake, Oregon State's Adley Rutschman among them — LSU was notably absent.
Mainieri kept hinting at players who may have a chance, mentioning Daniel Cabrera and Todd Peterson at varying points this season as players who may be worthy of the honor.
The coach may have played it slow in case Duplantis, Hess and Watson returned for the 2019 season. It turns out he had a home for all three.
The Collegiate National Team plays its first of 16 games games when it plays the Coastal Plains League all stars June 27 in Cary, North Carolina.
From there it will play three series against international teams, with two being held in the United States against Chinese Tapei and the Japan Collegiate team, and one being held in Cuba against the Cuban National Team.
"It's going to be a fun little experience," Mainieri said.
All 16 games will be played in a 22-day span. The LSU trio is still expected to play in some prestigious summer leagues.
Mainieri's staff with the Collegiate National Team includes what he called "some of my best friends in the business."
Jim Hendry, the special assistant to the New York Yankees general manager, will serve as his bench coach. Former assistants Brian O'Connor and Cliff Godwin, now the head coaches at Virginia and East Carolina, will serve as his pitching and hitting coaches.
"Kind of getting the old gang back together," Mainieri said.
A native of Lafayette, Duplantis batted a team-high .328 in 2018 with 13 doubles, six triples, two homers, 48 RBIs, 55 runs and 19 stolen bases. He's first in the SEC in triples, third in the league in hits (89) and third in stolen bases. Duplantis was named to the 2018 SEC All-Tournament team after hitting .370 in six games with two doubles, one triple, five RBIs and eight runs.
With 268 career hits, Duplantis needs 85 more to become the all-time hits leader in Southeastern Conference history. Former LSU first baseman Eddy Furniss set the SEC record with 352 hits from 1995-98.
Hess, who is from Forest, Virginia, was 7-6 this season with a 5.05 ERA, working 92.2 innings in 16 starts and one relief appearance. He allowed 83 hits and 52 earned runs while recording 49 walks and 107 strikeouts. Hess ranks No. 4 this season in the SEC in strikeouts.
Watson, a native of Ruston, batted .308 this season with 15 doubles, two triples, seven homers, 34 RBIs, 47 runs and 14 stolen bases. A 2017 Freshman All-American, Watson was named to the College World Series All-Tournament team as the Tigers made a run to the 2017 CWS championship series.
Seven Collegiate National Team games will be streamed live on USABaseball.com, as well as Facebook Live and YouTube. For more information on USA Baseball and the Collegiate National Team, follow @USABaseball on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; and @USABaseballCNT on Twitter.
Collegiate National Team schedule
June 27: CPL select team, 3 p.m. (at Cary, N.C.)
June 28: Chinese Taipei, 5 p.m. (at Cary, N.C.)
June 29: Chinese Taipei, 6 p.m. (at Cary, N.C.)
June 30: Chinese Taipei, 5:05 p.m. (at Durham, N.C.)
July 1: Chinese Taipei, 4 p.m. (Cary, N.C.)
July 2: Chinese Taipei, noon (Cary, N.C.)
July 3: Japan, 6:05 p.m. (Charlotte, N.C.)
July 4: Japan, 5:05 p.m. (Durham, N.C.)
July 6: Japan, 6 p.m. (Savannah, Ga.)
July 7: Japan, 5:05 p.m. (Charleston, S.C.)
July 8: Japan, 4 p.m. (Macon, Ga.)
July 10-15: Cuba (five games, in Cuba)
All times CDT