LSU baseball: Q&A with Paul Mainieri, Part II

His eighth year as the LSU baseball coach complete, coach Paul Mainieri, in Part II of a Q&A with The Advocate, touches on the fan reaction to this season’s ending and a highly touted signing class that he says might be the best group he’s ever signed.

A team that appeared destined for a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, lost a regional at home by dropping the final two games to Houston. The Tigers were six outs from advancing to the super regional round before collapsing and losing to the Cougars in 11 innings. Then they were beaten 12-2, the program’s worst loss in an NCAA regional game in 22 years.

The Advocate: What’s been the reaction you’ve received over the past two weeks from the fans?

Mainieri: Obviously there’s a lot of criticism. And that’s because our fans are passionate about our team. I’ve also received, literally, hundreds of supportive emails — people that just love what’s going on here. I appreciate those emails. The criticism is part of the job.

This is the thing I’ve learned about being at LSU: When you win the last game of the year, meaning you won the national championship, which has happened to us once, they think you walk on water as the coach. When you lose the last game of the year, it falls short of winning a national championship, and that’s the most recent thing in their memory that caused them to feel the pain of our team losing. What happens is, it’s either I bunted when I should have, or I didn’t bunt when I should have, or I left a pitcher in too long or took him out too early, or I should have hit and run, or I shouldn’t have hit and run.

They’re going to break down the last game and have their opinion about whether what moves of mine did not work that would have, maybe, contributed to the loss of the game. That’s a very natural thing to happen, and I’m not trying to make light of it and I just realize that’s part of the deal here.

Look, I know that we have the most passionate fans in the country, and I think God every day that we have them. If they wouldn’t have done something the way I did it, I certainly understand why they would think that way. If you lose the last game of the year, that’s natural for people to feel that way. On the other hand, I think the majority of our fans are very proud of our program, and they saw a team that won 46 ballgames, that was a national seed, that hosted a regional, that won an SEC tournament. It didn’t end the way that we wanted it to end, but there was a lot of success on the field. They also realize our players are great representatives of our university. They’re clean-cut. They work hard. They’re cordial with people. They help in the community. I hope that they feel that their coach, that the coaches of their program, are the same kind of people — and (that) even though the end of the season hurt, they see the big picture, and they know we’ll be right back in there fighting again next year.

The Advocate: How excited are you about this freshman class?

Mainieri: I haven’t been this excited about a class since, really, our first class that came in — the class with (Kevin) Gausman and (Ryan) Eades and (JaCoby) Jones and (Ty) Ross. That was a pretty great class, too. Probably felt the same way about that class. This class — I don’t know; it just strikes me as being the perfect class. I know that it’s hard to say that something’s perfect, but it just feels that way. We’ve got some really high-end players that literally turned down $1 million. One turned down $1 million. One turned down very close to $1 million. The rest of them were going to be draft choices between the third and 12th round if they wanted to be. The reason they didn’t get picked there was because they had indicated to pro scouts that they were going to go to LSU, no matter what. They didn’t waste draft picks on them.

We had five draft picks that are coming to school, but trust me when I tell you that the rest of them that weren’t drafted easily would have been or could have been or should have been.

This is a talented group. We’ve got the pitchers that are going to replenish our staff, plus we’ll have three or four guys coming back from injury last year. I’m excited about that. I think our staff is going to be strong. We’re just going to have some youth. That’s not going to be an excuse. We’re going to have to get them ready quickly. We’ve got the right pitching coach to do that.

I’m also equally as excited about the position players. The two Jordan boys at Barbe (Beau and Bryce) are winners. If you looked up the word “winner” in the dictionary, you’d see their pictures there. They’re good ballplayers.

I think (Greg) Deichmann and (Grayson) Byrd are going to be really great players here. And Mike Papierski reminds me an awful lot of Micah Gibbs. Maybe even better. He’s a switch-hitting catcher that has the talent and the tools and is going to have a tremendous future here. I’m equally excited about those guys. If you asked me to draw up the perfect class, this would be it. I think (recruiting coordinator and hitting coach Javi) Sanchez did an amazing job putting it together.

The Advocate: What do you tell an 18-year-old who calls and tells you that he turned down $1 million to come play for you?

Mainieri: I tell them that they exhibited an unparalleled level of confidence in themselves of decisiveness and of valuing what the experience of LSU is going to be like. Personally, I think they all made good decisions. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

I totally understand (first baseman) Bobby Bradley, why he decided to sign (with the Cleveland Indians, who drafted him in the third round). I totally supported his decision to do that, and I wish him nothing but the best. The other kids who turned it down and decided to come to LSU, I’m going to wrap my arms around them, welcome them into the program and get to work.

I think they’re going to have a significant impact on the program. I don’t know if it’s going to be ranked the No. 1 class in the country. It should be. That’s the talent on the team. That’s the talent in the class. I don’t know how those people that rank them do that, but for me, it’s the No. 1 class in the country. It might be the best class we ever had here.

The Advocate: Who do you expect to make the biggest impact?

Mainieri: I’m not even going to answer that question.

They’re all coming in on equal footing with me. They have to earn what they get. As much as (I) love them all and think they’re just tremendous, I’m not going to single anybody out because when we hit that field for the first time around the first of September, they’re all on equal footing, and they’re going to get what they earn. It’s going to be a highly competitive fall practice. They know that. That’s why they came here. If they were afraid of the competition, they wouldn’t have come to LSU.

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