OMAHA, Neb. — Awaiting Paul Mainieri at the Embassy Suites in Omaha’s Old Market late Wednesday after the Tigers’ season-extending 7-4 win over Florida State at the College World Series, the LSU coach’s wife, Karen, son, Tommy, and a group of other family members wanted a word.
Not to congratulate Mainieri on LSU’s 50th win of the season, or its spot in the final four of college baseball.
“They were so mad at me,” Mainieri said.
Mad about hair. More specifically, they were mad about Mainieri’s reaction to several LSU players’ new hairstyles. About a dozen of the Tigers changed their looks Tuesday night — 24 hours after No. 1-ranked Oregon State snapped LSU’s 17-game winning streak with a 13-1 thrashing.
Turns out, the girlfriend of LSU assistant Micah Gibbs is a hairdresser. She helped craft a few mohawks, buzz cuts and the “Wild Thing” look — inspired by “Major League” fireballer Rick Vaughn — that freshman reliever Zack Hess wore so well on Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park.
“‘Major League,’ the movie?” Mainieri asked with a bewildered expression when speaking to the media Wednesday after LSU’s second win in Omaha. “You mean like the Wild Thing’s haircut? That’s what he has?”
Mainieri did not know. Shortstop Kramer Robertson dyed his long, brown hair a bright shade of yellow. Robertson hid his altered look under a hood from the coach until they got to the stadium before the Florida State game.
“Maybe he’s trying to look like his mother,” Mainieri said of Robertson, the son of Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey. “I don’t know.
“When I saw it in the dugout, my eyes were as big as grapefruits.”
Clearly, the coach was not pleased, vowing that the LSU players would resemble their old selves before the Tigers practiced Thursday in preparation for a Friday rematch with the Beavers.
Well, Thursday came, and the LSU players looked no different. Credit Mainieri’s family with the save.
“I had to cave in,” the coach said. “So I sent a text message to the team about midnight, saying, ‘Alright, my wife gave me a hard time. You can wear your hair however the hell you want.’
“They were all fired up.”
Robertson, who snapped an 0-for-12 skid in Omaha against the Seminoles, said he was ready to go back to brown.
“I like it better that way,” he said. “The team wanted me to keep it, so [Mainieri] had a change of heart. Whatever they want, I’m a team guy. It’s not my best look. It’s just for fun, and it’s not permanent, so I can look brutal for the next few days.
“I guess I’m not going to be able to find my wife here now that I have this hair, but maybe it’ll help us win a national championship, so that’s the goal.”
The “Wild Thing” look only adds to the growing fascination around Hess, a 6-foot-6 right-hander whose fastballs reached 98 mph in the ninth inning on Wednesday, as clocked on the right-field scoreboard in Omaha.
His intensity on the mound is legendary, and Hess has pitched collegiately for less than five months.
“I’m just kind of wearing it right now,” Hess said Thursday. “Embracing it.”
And in another complete reversal from his postgame attitude, Mainieri said Thursday that maybe the new haircuts helped the Tigers get back to winning.
“If they think it helps win the games, God bless them,” he said. “Hey, we’ve thought possums and beach balls have helped us win games. If they think their hair can help us win games, so be it.”