As former LSU baseball coach Paul Mainery watched Tennessee player Evan Russell play a double in the bottom of the ninth inning to seal Notre Dame’s place in the College World Series Championships from his theater room in his Baton Rouge home, his wife Karen entered.
“Let’s celebrate my birthday in Omaha,” she said.
The Fighting Irish captured the Tennessee No. 1 national seed in the Knoxville Super Regional Sunday to earn their first trip to the College World Series since Mainieri was head coach in 2002.
It was Maineri’s first trip as head coach. He’s been a spectator twice before, first in 1988 as a stop between major training positions at St. Thomas University in Miami and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He went back in 1991 to watch his friend, Jim Hendry, coach Creighton in his first and only CWS appearance.
“I just thought the event was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, and at that point, I literally said to myself, ‘I’m not going back to the World Championships unless I get a team with him,’ said Mainyeri.
In 2002, Maineri did just that.
At the time, the Irish fighters followed a similar path to what they faced this year – defeating the No. 1 seeded team, which was Florida State, in Tallahassee, Florida, to reach Omaha. The team achieved one home win from the trial in a home and away game by left-football player Brian Stavesky against Rice.
yoUnfortunately, Karen did not go. She lost her father that summer, and had to go home.
When Mainery made the trip with LSU six years later, Karen was there—and defeated LSU Rice with exit style, 6-5, on her birthday.
Now in his first year of retirement, Mainery has enjoyed watching his former teams from afar – Notre Dame, Air Force and LSU. On June 4, the three won games on the regional tour: the Air Force defeated Dallas Baptiste, Notre Dame defeated Texas Tech, and LSU defeated the Southern Mays.
Mainery has a number of connections since his time at Notre Dame who have made contact in this year’s post-season.
There’s Cliff Goodwin, a former Mainieri assistant coach at Notre Dame and two-year LSU, whose East Carolina team won the regional and hosted Texas in the super regional. This is also where Brian O’Connor, his former assistant for nine years at Notre Dame and now head coach at the University of Virginia, led the Cavaliers to their regional debut in Greenville, South Carolina.
Auburn Athletic Director Allen Green and Assistant Athletic Director Brant Ost have both played for Mainieri at Notre Dame, and the Tigers return to the WCW for the first time since 2019.
Through the LSU thread, former Maineri assistant Nolan Kane is now at Texas A&M, where he helped make the Aggies’ seventh public appearance at the CWS and first since 2017.
In addition, Mainieri’s son Nick still works in the athletics department at Notre Dame providing academic advice. When Maineri went to visit him in South Bend, Indiana, this fall, Notre Dame Maine coach Link Jarrett asked if he would speak with the team. He did, telling them stories about how he actually thought the 2001 team would be the first team to go to Omaha until it failed at the Starkville super Regional.
The 2021 team Notre Dame also lost to Mississippi State in the super regional.
“I told these kids when I met them in October that I followed your team last year and that the experience I had in Starkville will be invaluable to you this year,” Mainyeri said. “I’ve seen the best baseball can throw in college, but now I think you guys are talented and now have the experience to get to Omaha this year.”
Mainery was right, and now he’ll see what the Fighting Irish in Omaha can do firsthand.