LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri has kept himself busy for the past month, but he hopes never to spend another postseason as he did this one.
“It’s been one of the worst experiences of my professional life,” he said this week. “I certainly don’t ever want to go through it again. You sometimes have to go through tough times to appreciate the great times a little more, I guess. But I don’t like the fact that we weren’t in the postseason this year, and I’m going to do everything within my power to make that not happen again.”
After the Tigers were left out of the NCAA field despite a 36-20 record and 12 victories in their last 15 games, Mainieri didn’t have any scouting reports to study or lineup cards to fill out. But he had plenty to do.
First he had to find a new pitching coach after David Grewe resigned. Ten days later he hired Baltimore Orioles minor league pitching coordinator Alan Dunn. He also did some recruiting.
“I don’t think I watched a single pitch of the regional tournament,” Mainieri said. “Part of the reason I wasn’t watching the games was I was out recruiting and I was doing a lot of work and I had some things to deal with throughout these last few weeks to try to make us better.”
Mainieri did watch the super regionals after accepting an invitation to be an in-studio analyst for ESPNU’s coverage. He said he was reluctant to accept the invitation at first.
“It was hard for me to accept it because I was still very disappointed and bitter that we weren’t playing,” Mainieri said. He said he ultimately accepted because it was good exposure for LSU and its baseball program.
Watching those games reinforced Mainieri’s belief that the Tigers should have been in the tournament and would have proven their worthiness.
“I don’t mean this in a way to belittle anybody else,” he said, “but watching the games only reaffirmed my feeling that we had one of the better teams in the country.”
Mainieri didn’t go to the College World Series, which he rarely does when his team doesn’t make it. He said he probably would have gone to the championship had Virginia made it because Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor is a close friend who was an assistant under Mainieri for nine seasons at Notre Dame. But when top-seeded Virginia was sent home by South Carolina, Mainieri stayed home.
“It was very hard for me personally to watch the games in Omaha and certainly the games in the regionals because I still have very strong feelings that we deserved to be in the NCAA tournament,” Mainieri said. “I hurt so badly for our players and our staff and all of the people that follow LSU baseball that we were shortchanged. I’ll go to my grave believing that we deserved to be in that tournament. ”
Mainieri said he watched the South Carolina-Virginia game and the Gamecocks’ two-game sweep of Florida in the final.
“Honestly, after being in the World Series three times and winning a national championship, it’s very hard to watch the games without being a participant because you know how exciting and thrilling it is, and you’d love for your fans to be right there with you and experiencing it all,” Mainieri said. “It makes it emotionally very difficult not to be there. The only way to get back is to outwork the other teams, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Mainieri said he was proud to see the all-SEC final, and that, as well as Vanderbilt’s participation in the CWS, reinforced what he already knew.
“The fact that we didn’t make the SEC tournament doesn’t make us a bad ballclub. It doesn’t make anybody a bad ballclub,” he said. “There aren’t any bad ballclubs in the SEC.
“You just can’t ever take anything for granted in this league. It’s a very unforgiving conference because the players are so good, the coaches are so good, the facilities are so good at every institution. Everything is just so enormous in the Southeastern Conference that there’s just never a break. You have 30 dogfights in that league every year. Every game matters, every pitch matters.”
Mainieri said a month after the NCAA snub that he realizes the solution to the Tigers’ résumé issues — a 13-17 record and ninth-place finish in the SEC — is pretty simple.
“All that kept being emphasized was what our SEC record was and where we finished in the standings of the SEC,” he said. “I don’t think we need to go out and change everything. I’m not going to knee-jerk react. The bottom line is if we do better in the SEC, then that will be enough.”