Bianco reunion at The Box
Published 6:00 pm Friday, May 3, 2019
Every day that LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri parks in his personal space outside Alex Box Stadium, it’s glaring at him.
As he gets out of his car, without fail there it is again.
Mike Bianco staring right back at him.
“I can’t get away from it,” Mainieri said.
Well, it’s not the Ole Miss coach in the flesh, actually, although it could be this weekend when Bianco takes his Rebels to The Box for a key SEC series.
But Bianco was enough of an elite catcher during his two years at LSU (1988-89) that he’s one of many former players with a plaque bearing his likeness on the outside wall that winds around the stadium.
The Bianco plaque is right there, by the one for Ben McDonald, the famous pitcher he caught while at LSU.
“First thing I see every morning is a plaque of Mike Bianco,” Mainieri said.
After his playing days, Bianco was an assistant under Skip Bertman until 1997, when Bertman won the fourth of his five national championships.
Bianco then took over as head coach at McNeese State, where after reaching the NCAA Tournament in his third season in 2000, Ole Miss came a calling.
He’s been there ever since, just last week moving into third place on the all-time SEC wins list.
Yeah, he’s solidly entrenched at Ole Miss, even when his name came up in the two LSU coaching searches since Bertman retired following the 2001 season and took over as athletic director.
There will always be a part of LSU in him, however, namely Bertman.
Many have imitated Bertman’s distinctive inflections and mannerisms over the years.
With Bianco it almost comes naturally. Bianco almost is Bertman. Watch him walk out to the mound, listen to him talk … it’s uncanny.
“Nobody loves LSU and Skip Bertman more than Mike Bianco,” Mainieri has said. “And I bet you Skip would tell you that Mike is probably the son that Skip never had.”
And there’s the rub.
This time with Bianco, Ole Miss-LSU is not personal, it’s family.
While Bertman had four daughters, Bianco has four sons (and one daughter) of his own.
In fact, Bianco will get to see the oldest, Drew, play this weekend — for LSU, against his Ole Miss team.
What? He couldn’t recruit his own son?
It’s a rare deal.
But Bianco and his wife Camille started discussing the possibility of their sons playing college baseball long ago.
They decided they didn’t want them to play for their dad.
“I’d like them to go somewhere where they make it or don’t and sink or swim on their own,” Bianco told RebelGrove.com in 2016 when Drew committed to LSU. “They don’t have to be the coach’s son. You’re not playing because you’re the coach’s son and you didn’t fail because you’re the coach’s son. Let them be Drew Bianco and Ben Bianco and (youngest son) Sam Bianco.
“I want them to make their marks on their own. I don’t want them to always be the coach’s son in the different areas of their college life. There are advantages to it, but there are also disadvantages. The point is, that’s coach Bianco’s boy. Coming here (Ole Miss) they never get away from that.”
Bianco even talked to Mainieri about it. Mainieri’s father, who recently died, was a legendary college coach in south Florida, where Paul played for a year at Miami Dade College-North Campus.
Maybe Mainieri had ulterior motives. Maybe he didn’t. But Mainieri suggested it would be better to play somewhere else.
But Bianco basically had already made up his mind before talking with Mainieri. So Ole Miss fans can’t blame Mainieri that Drew got away.
Still, it is an odd situation this weekend.
When they played toss in the backyard, was dad trying to strike out the son?
He could conceivably be calling pitches desperately needing to get his son out during a game’s key moment.
Most likely, that would be in a pinch-hitting situation as most of Drew’s increasing playing time has come off the bench.
Camille isn’t even making the trip to Baton Rouge — she doesn’t want to constantly be asked if she’s rooting for husband and son.
Father and son were scheduled to have dinner Thursday night. The promise was that they wouldn’t talk baseball.
That’s not always the case.
In fact, Drew credits a pep talk phone call from dad for turning his season around.
After opening the year at first base, he lost that starting job and was stuck on the bench with four hits for the season a couple weeks ago. In the phone call Mike reminded Drew that he belonged at this level and should relax and have fun again.
Since then he’s had six hits off the bench or starting while third baseman Eric Reid was injured.
It will be interesting when he gets his first plate appearance this weekend.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com