Mainieris relish baseball’s bond

OMAHA, Neb. — In the warm twilight of a summer evening at Alex Box Stadium, Paul Mainieri orchestrates another practice for his LSU baseball team.

A few yards away in the stands, a diminutive older man watches quietly from behind a dark pair of sunglasses.

He speaks when spoken to. When spoken to, he can tell you a lot. Of the great players he coached, like Steve Carlton and Mike Piazza and Randy Bush. Of the time he tried to get another of his players a job with the FBI.

Of the love he has for his son, Paul.

“He’s got 30 years of coaching,” the gentle man said. “I think he knows what he’s doing. If he asks me something point blank, I’ll answer it. But I don’t like to take away from how he wants to coach his team.”

Demie Mainieri knows something about a great coaching job. He crafted a legendary career as a junior college coach at Miami-Dade Community College, enough so he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988.

In January, Paul will join him, making the Mainieris the only father-son duo in the ABCA Hall of Fame.

It will be yet another tie of familiarity between father and son.

“I cherish the time I get to spend with my father,” Paul Mainieri said. “He’s meant everything to me in my life. Not only just as good a father as can be, but he’s also been my mentor when it came to the profession I chose.”

Demie Mainieri led Miami-Dade to a junior college national championship in 1964 and spent the rest of his career chasing another with several close calls. That was one of the reasons Paul wanted his father with him in Omaha as LSU pursued, and captured, the 2009 College World Series title.

Both Demie and his wife, Rosetta, are in Omaha again, ready as the Tigers are for their CWS opener against UCLA (7 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2).

“Here we are a few years later, and he’s still with us, thank God, and able to go with us to Omaha,” Paul said. “Having him there is going to mean everything to me.”

Proud as he is of his son, a career in coaching wasn’t the life Demie Mainieri envisioned for him.

“He said, ‘Dad, I’m thinking about what I want to do with my life. I think I’d like to be a coach.’ ” Demie recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, Paul, why do you want to do that? You’ve got the smarts. You can be a doctor or lawyer, something like that.’

“He said, ‘I was thinking of being a coach because I saw you went into coaching for the right reasons.’ A lot of guys are in coaching for the wrong reasons. I didn’t need the egotism and Paul doesn’t need that. The players are the act.”

When it was time to play college ball, Paul Mainieri decided to leave home in Miami and head for LSU. A natural infielder, Mainieri languished in the outfield. After his freshman season in 1976, he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream and transfer home to play for his father in 1977.

It turned out to be a bittersweet experience.

“That was a tough year, I’ll be honest,” Paul Mainieri said. “There were a lot of feelings among the team. I’m only playing because I’m my dad’s son, or the players weren’t themselves around me for fear I was going to run to my dad and tell them everything.

“He felt it was harder on me, but I felt it was harder on him. I’m glad we did it, but I was glad when the year was over.”

“After this experience I would never recommend that,” Demie Mainieri said.

Hit by a pitch in an early season series with Miami (Fla.) that season, Paul suffered a cracked bone in his hand. Doctors told him he would be out 6-8 weeks.

Paul had other ideas.

“I go in the utility room at our house, and his brother Jimmy is in there with a hacksaw sawing the cast off,” Demie Mainieri said. “I said what are you doing? It’s 6-8 weeks. He said, ‘I gotta get back.’ But anyway, when he came back, he was never the same player.”

After that season, Paul was looking for another school and decided to return to Louisiana and play for former coach Ron Maestri for two years at the University of New Orleans. The transfer allowed Paul to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, now his wife, Karen Mainieri. When the two married, it was Demie who served as Paul’s best man.

“I love him,” Paul Mainieri said. “He’s my dad, my mentor and my best friend. I’m just glad to be able to share these kinds of experiences with him.”

Like another College World Series title.