Barrett’s Barleycorn must be hurting.
The Omaha watering hole famous for painting its walls purple and gold and blaring the LSU fight song every June hasn’t received its traditional influx of clientele over the past three seasons. After claiming the 2009 College World Series championship, the school’s sixth, LSU has failed to reach the promised land of college baseball.
The 2010 team traveled out to UCLA and was eliminated after three games in regional play. The 2011 team failed to qualify for the tournament, and the 2012 team came up one win short.
During Friday’s extended chat with the media, Paul Mainieri took 17 minutes to mention “Omaha”, but he did it without a prompt. The seventh year head coach has never been shy about voicing his expectations and goals.
There is no question what those are in Baton Rouge.
“I don’t like standing up here knowing that we haven’t been to Omaha in three years,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “Every year you roll out of bed at LSU and the goal is to get there. I know the people that follow this program, that’s their goal too. Anything short of that ends up being a disappointment.”
That disappointment fades over the summer and breeds motivation come the fall and eventually the spring.
LSU returns eight seniors on the 2012 club, a rarity in college baseball.
Decorated players like Mason Katz, Raph Rhymes and Chris Cotton provide a veteran corps of solid players. They’ve also never been to Omaha.
In losing four-year starters Tyler Hanover and Austin Nola to graduation, the Tiger program lost a pair of excellent defenders, solid bats, and maybe most importantly the bridge to the College World Series.
Both Hanover and Nola belted home runs in the 2009 title run up at Rosenblatt Stadium.
“You lose the leadership. Those guys have been through it all,” Katz said. “They’ve won the National Championship. They’ve done the ultimate, but then again everyone here wants to go so bad. We’ve got guys here who have come one game short.”
Mainieri admitted that losing that those players is, “a little bit of a concern of mine.”
Three weeks before the first pitch of the season, the Tigers made no effort to hide the mission.
As “The Intimidator” hovered over the vacant, glimmering bleachers in right field, LSU commenced spring practice. Six years etched in the fabric of the program’s history remain a constant reminder of the expectations that come with the state of the art stadium and interlocking letters on each clean hat.
It doesn’t take long to understand that.
“I’m just so excited to be here and wearing the purple and gold,” said freshman shortstop Alex Bregman. “That was my dream growing up, and I can’t wait to fulfill it and go out there and hopefully win a national championship.”
In just less than five minutes of interview time, Bregman mentioned winning a national championship five times.
The pollsters tend to agree with highly touted freshman.
Collegiate Baseball ranked Mainieri’s club No. 4 in its preseason poll. Perfect Game followed up by pegging the Tigers No. 5, and Baseball America tabbed LSU No. 3 in its poll.
The consensus being that this team has some desirable pieces and could be primed for another run. Mainieri thinks so.
“I tell you I’ve got a lot of optimism,” Mainieri said. “I feel great about this club. I know everybody thinks I’m optimistic every year, but that’s the way I coach. I believe every year is the year, and this year is no different.”