The only thing that could come close to the disappointment of going two-and-out at the College World Series for LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri was knowing he would lose nearly half of the 27-player roster he brought to Omaha, Neb., last month.
While getting ousted from college baseball’s biggest stage after a 57-win season was difficult enough, Mainieri had to come to grips with saying goodbye to 13 players — including eight seniors — who helped the Tigers reach that ultimate destination for the first time since 2009.
“When the end of the season comes, it’s a very emotional time for me,” Mainieri said Monday. “It’s not just because of the disappointment and the fact that we didn’t win the national championship in Omaha and had to leave a lot earlier than we would have anticipated.
“You also have to say goodbye to 13 players from our team,” he said. “You immerse yourself into their lives, and when they leave, a part of you leaves with them. It’s very traumatic to say goodbye to those kids.”
But after speaking individually with each player on the 2013 team, an emotional Mainieri quickly turned the page and began looking toward next season and what needs to be done to get back to Omaha for another shot at the school’s seventh national title.
It helped a lot that some of the newcomers Mainieri is counting on to do that dropped by his office, literally minutes after the last of the departing players — senior outfielder Raph Rhymes — walked out the door.
“I was kind of down in the dumps, having said goodbye to the kids and the fact that the season had just ended. And exactly 15 minutes later, three of our new players stopped in,” Mainieri said. “It immediately reminded me that a new season beckons.
“Certainly, putting together a new team is what we do in our business. It’s the cycle, so to speak, of life. One group finishes, and another group starts.”
On Monday, three days after the deadline for players selected in the first-year amateur draft to sign professional contracts, Mainieri unveiled his 2014 roster that includes 17 new players.
The group includes 10 pitchers, which could help the Tigers offset the loss of seven of their top 11 pitchers from last year’s squad, and seven position players.
The 17 newcomers will begin classes Aug. 26 and join returning players for conditioning drills and individual workouts. The six-week fall practice period gets underway a month later on Sept. 29.
Mainieri, who lost only three members of his signing class to the pros, has several highly regarded prospects coming in.
The list is topped by right-handed pitchers Parker Bugg, who was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, and Brady Domangue, a star of the LSU-Eunice team that finished second at the national junior college tournament, as well as infielders Danny Zardon, Kramer Robertson and Conner Hale.
Mainieri said he initially thought Zardon or Hale could be lost in the draft.
They’ll join a solid group of returnees that includes All-American pitcher Aaron Nola, shortstop Alex Bregman, third baseman Christian Ibarra and speedy outfielders Mark Laird, Andrew Stevenson and Sean McMullen.
Bregman also earned All-America honors and was named the nation’s top freshman by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
“I feel like I have been handed a big pile of clay, and as the sculptor of that clay, it’s my responsibility to make something beautiful of it,” Mainieri said. “That’s the challenge as we go forward. We’re going to fall practice with some returning players that were outstanding and will formulate the core of our team as we go into the new season.
“Certainly, there’s lot of work to do to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle will fit together to give us another ballclub that will challenge and hopefully get us to Omaha and be able to come back with the big trophy.”
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