College World Series: LSU returns to Omaha for 18th time in 31 years
When LSU coach Paul Mainieri pays a visit to a prospective student-athlete, he's armed with history.
You want to become a professional baseball player? LSU had more players drafted in the first two days of the 2017 draft than all but one school and has produced seven first-round draft picks in the Mainieri era.
You want to compete at college baseball's highest level? Well, that history goes well beyond Mainieri.
Every single LSU freshman class since 1983 has experienced the College World Series at least one time, a streak of 34 years that will continue through at least the 2020 season after LSU made the eight-team field again this season. It's the longest active streak in the country.
"'Hey, you want to come to LSU? We're going to go to Omaha and you're going to be a Major League Baseball player,'" Mainieri said in his mock pitch. "That's generally the two things [kids] want to know with their choice of colleges, and I think we have tangible proof that you can accomplish those goals and dreams at LSU."
When they open with their first game of the CWS on Saturday against Florida State, it will mark the 18th time the Tigers have reached the pinnacle of college baseball. Those 18 appearances have come since 1986.
Senior shortstop Kramer Robertson is making his first trip to Omaha — he was left off the roster when LSU made it in 2015. He sees it as an expectation, both by those who play in the program and those who follow it.
"It's a program of excellence," Robertson said. "It started with Skip Bertman and coach Mainieri has done a great job of continuing it. ... It's what we expect. We expect excellence, and we work for it every day.
"People before us laid the groundwork and showed us the way and paved the way for us to have this opportunity."
Bertman is an LSU icon because of Omaha, and the success he had there. The five national championship teams he directed in a 10-year span mark one of the most dominant stretches in the sport's history, behind only USC winning six titles in a seven-year stretch in the 1960s and '70s.
He built LSU into a national power and sustained that success for more than a decade. The challenge is keeping that train in motion.
"It's a very important job to be the custodian of this baseball team," Mainieri said. "It's a challenging job, too. What Skip Bertman did while he was here is beyond comprehension, really. He took a program that wasn't seriously considered a national contender and won five national championships, went to Omaha 11 times in his 18 years.
"When I became head coach, I knew what the responsibility was. It was a big job. I've enjoyed it. I love it."
It begins, Mainieri said, in that prospect's living room. Sustaining that type of success over nearly three and a half decades is not done simply through the power of coaching.
But it doesn't end with getting great players, either.
"It's the attention to detail," junior outfielder Greg Deichmann said. "It's the great recruiting by the staff. It's getting these guys on campus and putting the work in, day-in, day-out.
"They find the guys that want to be here and they find the guys that want to do the job and are going to step up and get the job done."
Those expectations can be heavy. While the streak is not a number the players keep logged away in their memory banks, it's also clear they don't want to be the ones to break the streak.
It's pressure. With each successive trip to Omaha and each extension of this CWS streak, the baton gets a little heavier when one class passes it off to the next. The key is to find players talented enough to win the race to Omaha, but also strong enough to bear that weight of responsibility.
"It can become very overwhelming for kids," Mainieri said. "So you try to find the kids that can handle it.
"And, if they have enough ability and they can handle it with poise and composure, they end up having a lot of success."
This article is written by Luke Johnson from The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.