The decision to deny the Tigers any form of postseason play left many players scratching their heads in astonishment and gave eight seniors a faulty ending to their collegiate careers.
"We were in shock," said junior
shortstop Michael Hollander. "We had no clue. We were getting ready to get back
Check back tomorrow for a complete breakdown of the how the Tigers will take the field as well as Mainieri's plan for the pitching staff. to practicing and stuff. It was strange. It was bad for the seniors because they didn't even get to enjoy their last game at Alex Box Stadium because they didn't even know it was their last game when they played it."
Many changes to the LSU baseball program have been made since the regional selection show in late May.
LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman cleaned house, putting former coach Smoke Laval out of a job, and ushered in a new era of Tiger baseball.
Bertman hired former Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri as the 25th head coach on June 28, 2006, in hopes of returning Tiger baseball to the prominence of years past.
Mainieri brought in pitching coach Terry Rooney, who also served as pitching coach at Notre Dame under Mainieri, to help eliminate the poor statistics recorded from the 2006 pitching staff.
During fall practice and leading up to the 2007 season, Rooney has helped improve the quality and depth of the LSU pitching staff.
"He just got us on a program – an actual written program of what we can follow," said junior pitcher Michael Bonura. "It's just really nothing different. He's just sticking to it and telling us every day to make sure we stick to this and follow the program because it's going to help us. The stuff he was telling us was happening. It was making sense. When you actually see it during practice, it actually makes sense."
Mainieri also brought in LSU veteran infielder Blair Barbier, who played various infield positions during his tenure at LSU from 1997-2000. During that time, Barbier started for two national championship teams and now returns to LSU this season to assist Mainieri in getting the Tigers back to Omaha.
"He can relate to us because he's been there," said sophomore infielder Buzzy Haydel. "I think more than anything, I think he's given us a lot of positive energy and a lot of confidence in ourselves. He knows what it's like to play in front of packed house with a lot of people."
Middle infielders like Haydel have benefited from having Barbier on staff to better their understanding of the position as opposed to the past coaching staff.
"He played infield, outfield – I think he even was a catcher in the pros – so he pretty much knows every position," Hollander said. "It helps to have him because last year we didn't really have a middle infield coach. Coach Moore did the infield but he played first base, so it helps to have someone there who played those positions."
Another addition to the baseball program is hitting coach Cliff Godwin. Godwin replaced long-time hitting coach Turtle Thomas, who coached not only under Laval but Bertman as well.
Godwin only spent one year with Mainieri at Notre Dame but posted the best hitting ratio the squad had recorded since 1990.
With the new faces on the coaching staff also comes a new mindset that has permeated the team. After putting up a 35-24 record last season along with the absence of a NCAA Regional Tournament, the players had to regain their confidence, which was somewhat lacking, if not completely missing.
"I think our team is going into this season with a great deal of confidence," Mainieri said. "I'm a very firm believer when players work hard and are committed that their confidence will grow because of what they invested."
The time invested so far during the fall leading up to the beginning of the season was significantly spent conditioning and included on-the-field-time for coaches to assess what kind of team they inherited.
In between fall practice, the players have been on a strict conditioning schedule with strength and conditioning coach Vic Viloria and the coaching staff.
"After fall practice ended the first of November, we spent another month and a half working individually with players in a very intense strength and conditioning program," Mainieri said. "The kids really worked hard. I think the message is getting across of what I believe is the level of commitment it takes, and the kids are willing to do it. I'm excited about what the possibilities are."
The possibilities for every player have been within arm's reach. Each player had a fresh start of earning a starting job on the team. With every coach being in his first year at LSU, each player was able to create a first impression in hopes of impressing the new staff – more so than the past coaching staff that kept them on the bench.
"For the players who may have not been in good graces with the previous staff, it's been a breath of fresh air," Mainieri said. "I think for some players that were playing regularly last year that they've come to the realization that what they've done in the past doesn't matter and that they have a whole new coaching staff that they need to impress, and that's been an adjustment for those guys."
Players agreed that the positive energy that has been ignited is not only based on the fact that they all have the opportunity to start for the Tigers, but it's also because of Mainieri's optimistic outlook on the future of the ballclub.
"Coach Mainieri is a positive guy and always getting us to do our best," Haydel said. "He's an energetic guy. He's come in and brought a new, positive energy into the program that I think the guys are feeding well off of. It's going to be a good change. The new coaches are going to be good for us. They're going to give us a new way to go about things."
The team took time off during Christmas break, but some players returned earlier than required to get an early start on preparation for the upcoming season.
While the players reported Jan. 16, they could only work individually with coaches during the first week of school.
"We're only allowed to have two hours next week of individual work," Mainieri said. "Sometimes it can be larger groups, but players can only have two hours of baseball- related activity."
Jan. 25 is the first day for full squad practice leading up to the first game against St. Mary's University from California on Feb. 9.
"I'm excited about obviously February 9," Mainieri said. "We're all looking forward to it being the first game of the season and my first game coaching in Alex Box Stadium, and to have the experience of the big crowd and the enthusiasm for Tiger baseball. I'm just really excited with getting a roll on the season and seeing how we match up."