Scooter Hobbs updated

This would have been 2017, I guess.

In Omaha for the College World Series.

A contingent of your finest Louisiana media had convened at a sidewalk cafe/ bistro in the wonderful Old Market area.

In fact, we were sitting right by the rail outside, solving world problems one beer at a time.

So we look up, and who’s walking down the sidewalk but Paul Mainieri — pushing a baby stroller, the proud new grandpa, with several other family members in tow.

He stopped, of course, just to chat.

And chat.

And chat some more.

Then some more.

If you caught any of Mainieri’s farewell news conference on Friday, you know he can get a bit long-winded at times.

But that night it must have been close to an hour before the family finally dragged him away from the media scoundrels and toward the LSU hotel around the corner.

The next day the Tigers would begin the national championship series against Florida.

He seemed totally relaxed, totally at peace with everything about the Omaha experience.

And I guess that encounter, though not that different than many others, is the way I’ll always remember Paul Mainieri.

Maybe it was the baby stroller.

But surely the media never had a better friend than Mainieri.

Talking came naturally to him, of course. And baseball coaches seem to tolerate the media better than most other sports. But Mainieri was over the top.

He seemed to understand our jobs — even when he might take an occasional flesh wound — and bent over backwards to accommodate.

Mainieri would tell you anything, everything, often probably too much for his own good.

Skip Bertman was just as engaging, of course, and naturally funnier, but probably not as bluntly honest and open and eager to spill his guts.

There’d come a point in most every season when Mainieri would announce to us that he was going to be more tight-lipped, quit babbling on and on about all the team “secrets.”

We’d wink at each other, knowing his new resolution wouldn’t last more than a day or two.

He just loved talking baseball — or anything — too much.

And he genuinely loved people — even media people.

He also understood and embraced the difference in coaching baseball at LSU than at anywhere else.

So many of his answers to game questions began “I know the fans are probably …” before a long explanation.

He probably cared too much about what they thought, but it was obvious that he did.

He couldn’t hide anything. Too much of an open book.

Hopefully that bucket list he plans to attack in retirement won’t include poker. He has no poker face.

Let the TV camera catch him pacing the dugout and one glance is all you need to know how the game is going for LSU.

So I’ve never understood why the fan base never quite warmed up to him as a national championship coach and a class act to boot.

I guess it was that he wasn’t Skip Bertman — never claimed to be and was never going to be.

First off, it’s not fair to compare anybody to Bertman. Never see his like again, anyway.

It’s almost the same apples as oranges as comparing Bertman and his five national titles to Southern Cal’s Rod Dedeaux, who won 11 between 1958 and 1978, including six out of seven at one point.

It was a different game, not as important or competitive or balanced than what Skip faced in the 1990s.

Thanks in no small part to Skip, Mainieri also found a different landscape, ramped up several notches, during his LSU tenure.

Certainly he found a much tougher Southeastern Conference as other schools had followed Skip’s lead to take baseball seriously.

It does seem odd that the knock against Mainieri seems to be that he won only one national championship, in 2009.

He had several teams capable of getting a second and maybe a third one.

It was almost as if the baseball gods granted him that one title and then set about evening out all the “baseball good fortune” — Bertman’s phrase — that LSU got during the 1990s run.

In the two days after that chance sidewalk meeting, the Tigers lost to Florida in the championship series. That was after taking two straight from an a 56-4 Oregon State team.

I think that missed opportunity haunts him to this day. He admitted as much — of course he did — before the next season.

Maybe a coincidence, but it was the next summer when the neck pains began, the ones that took a lot of the joy out coaching and eventually led to Friday’s tearful announcement.

I don’t know if “two” was the magic number, if a matching bookend trophy would have sufficed for him. But he seemed obsessed with getting it. Maybe he wanted it too much.

So you know it pained him to leave now, with a team in place for next year that might have been capable of getting it for him.

But I do like the picture he painted of retirement, of he and Skip sitting on a couch, watching the Tigers and second-guessing whoever replaces Mainieri.

That’ll be a lot of baseball know-how in that room.

A lot of class, too.

And LSU was extremely lucky to have both of them.

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

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