LSU played a baseball game Wednesday night at Alex Box Stadium, but the result hardly seemed to matter.
We’ll get the particulars out of the way: LSU won 16-5 against an overmatched Texas Southern team. A day after a loss to Northwestern State, the No. 10 Tigers improved to 12-5 before opening their Southeastern Conference schedule this weekend.
But the game was more about remembrance and processing grief, for earlier in the day coach Paul Mainieri’s father Demie Mainieri, a College Baseball Hall of Famer who coached at Miami-Dade Community College, died at age 90.
Demie Mainieri, a College Baseball Hall of Famer and the father of LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri, died Wednesday morning in Baton Rouge, LSU said.
“He’s my dad, my mentor and my best friend,” Mainieri once said.
Unsure a few hours before the game if he would coach, Mainieri walked onto the field while LSU took batting practice. He watched, black wrap around sunglasses shading his eyes, with his hands placed on his hips.
“I was really shocked when he showed up at the field,” junior center fielder Zach Watson said. “If my dad died, I don't know if I would be able to make it. For him to be up here and be with the team, we knew we had to go out here and play for him.”
Mainieri took his usual seat at the end of the bench closest to home plate about 20 minutes before first pitch, but he didn’t meet with the umpires and the opposing coach before the game. Instead, assistant coach Sean Ochinko exchanged lineup cards.
Before the national anthem, LSU held a moment of silence in Demie’s honor. Public address announcer Bill Franques said a eulogy of sorts highlighting Demie's accomplishments. An excerpt: first junior college coach to win 1,000 games, 30 of his former players reached the major leagues, winner of the 1964 junior college national championship.
LSU may have found one of the members of its weekend rotation, but the No. 10 Tigers lost a pitcher's duel on Wednesday at Northwestern State.
As Franques spoke, Mainieri occasionally wiped his hand across his face.
Mainieri coached throughout the game. He consulted pitching coach Alan Dunn. He encouraged players running off the field, but Dunn handled pitching changes. Mainieri stayed in the dugout.
"Obviously, he means everything to me,” Mainieri said of his father when inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, making them the only father-son duo in the hall. “Not only was he a tremendous father to me and my four siblings as we grew up, he was a great mentor to me as I chose the coaching profession.
"He always emphasized to me that a coach was a teacher, first and foremost. He has been my most trusted counsel, and I lean on him very much.”
Chris Reid lost his spot on LSU's baseball team last summer and moved on from the sport. He's back now, starting at third base and having as much fun as ever.
Senior right fielder Antoine Duplantis said Mainieri talked about his father “all the time.” Photos and memorabilia cover the walls of Mainieri’s office, many of Demie. When Mainieri married his wife Karen, Demie served as his son’s best man, and Wednesday night, Mainieri coached a sport they both loved.
So, yes, LSU won. Watson hit his first home run of the season, one of a career-high four hits. Duplantis “accidentally” hit his team-leading fifth home run of the year when he tried to hit a ground ball. Daniel Cabrera came a home run from the cycle. Every starter reached base. The Tigers didn't strike out until their final at-bat.
But Mainieri spent the game in the early stages of grief. He coached anyway.