Scooter Hobbs updated

Paul Mainieri has always been blatantly honest and delightfully forthright.

Sometimes, perhaps, too much for his own good.

It must be in his DNA. Can’t help himself.

But the LSU baseball coach announced his impending retirement two weeks ago the same way he’s opened up for 39 previous years.

Still, at the time, it looked like just a throwaway line as he was reflecting on what stepping away from the game would mean for a baseball lifer. One of the harmless zingers he tossed out was, “I won’t miss getting swept at Tennessee, I’ll tell you that.”

So now at least we know the NCAA has a sense of humor. Or maybe the baseball tournament’s selection committee never dreamed a previously nondescript LSU team would get out of the Eugene Regional with four wins in a row, including back-to-back against home-standing Oregon.

However it happened, three days after Mainieri uttered those immortal words, the NCAA bracket put him on a possible collision course with a return to a frustrating season’s worst nightmare.

Mainieri will have one last chance to get swept again at Tennessee. It would take only two games this time, not three. Still, that’s not much of a parting gift there.

Or perhaps it’s the fine print in the deal that had many suspecting LSU and Mainieri got a “retirement discount” in making the tournament at all.

Doesn’t matter.

I’d give LSU a 50-50 chance. Ludicrous? Well, what if I told you that, for its travails this season, the Tigers traveled pretty well?

Yeah, kind of caught me off guard, too. But if you look it up the Tigers won four of their five Southeastern Conference road series — four in a row.

They were 8-7 on the road, 5-10 in Alex Box Stadium in the SEC.

Add in two nonconference road wins at Louisiana-Lafayette and UNO, and it’s 10-7. Throw in the two wins against Oregon and it’s 12-7 on other’s people’s diamonds.

Maybe it kind of went unnoticed by the casual fan and lazy media.

But the Tigers themselves noticed.

“I can’t tell you why,” Mainieri said. “The kids are starting to take an awful lot of pride in it, I can tell you that.”

In fact, they refer to themselves as the “Road Dogs,” which sounds like a cover band.

“They huddle up and start barking like dogs and stuff,” Mainieri said. “It’s kind of cute.

“I’ve had some really great teams at LSU that didn’t play as well on the road as these guys. I wish I could explain why. I can’t. They just seem to play with a lot a confidence and play loose … I’ll leave it up to the experts to figure out why it happens.”

The notable exception, of course, kind of sticks out.

In late March the Tigers lost three games by a total of four runs — the last two requiring blown leads and suffering the indignity of walk-offs.

Regardless of what he said at his retirement announcement, Mainieri remembers it a little differently.

Disaster? Maybe to the casual eye. Mainieri was watching a young team on its first road trip.

“We went in there a little wide-eyed,” he recalled. “But I thought we were growing up right before my eyes in Tennessee. They were three really good games. Their team was outstanding and our team was still growing up.”

LSU is about as grown up as it’s going to get this season.

Taking two at Oregon was impressive, the Ducks in attendance didn’t seem to make much of a ruckus.

Tennessee used to be like that.

But some 30 years or so after Skip Bertman invented college baseball, Tennessee fans have suddenly taken to it in a big way.

The newfound raucous atmosphere at Lindsey Nelson Stadium was one of the talking points of the regional rounds.

It’s full now, whereas for LSU’s visit it was at 25 percent of 4,283-seat capacity due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Fine. But ask LSU, which has been hosting this kind of party for years — sometimes it puts more pressure on the home team.

LSU wasn’t supposed to be there. The Tigers, with nothing to lose, can be loose and have fun.

In fact, I might make it better than 50-50 that LSU advances to Omaha.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com

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