by Carl DuboisJune 8, 2009 2:02 AM
Virginia has made it to the College World Series for the first time. So has Southern Miss.
TCU can qualify for its first CWS with a victory tonight against Texas. The Longhorns haven't been to Omaha since they won the national championship in 2005.
Arizona State bears little resemblance to its most recent CWS team (2007). The same can be said for Cal State Fullerton.
The last time Arkansas was there was 2004.
North Carolina is headed to Omaha for the fourth consecutive season. The Tar Heels handed LSU its two losses at the 2008 College World Series.
Now, about those Tigers. In addition to having a 10-game winning streak and a No. 1 ranking, they have what most of the eight-team field will lack -- significant College World Series experience.
I'm talking about players, not laundry -- not the school's uniforms. Not LSU the campus, not LSU the program, not LSU the Wikipedia entry, but actual walking, talking, been-there-before LSU baseball players.
You'll hear a lot this week about this being Arizona State's 21st appearance, Cal State Fullerton's 16th and, perhaps, Texas' 33rd. Heck, you'll hear a number of references to this being LSU's 15th trip to Omaha.
Overblown, to a certain extent.
Oh, it helps to have a program with deep roots to the College World Series experience, but what matters most in these conversations is how many players on the current roster have actually walked on the field at Rosenblatt Stadium and played CWS games there.
Last year's LSU team had zero such players.
This year's LSU team has 13 players with College World Series game experience. They are: Paul Bertuccini, Louis Coleman, Blake Dean, Micah Gibbs, Derek Helenihi, Leon Landry, D.J. LeMahieu, Chris McGhee, Jared Mitchell, Sean Ochinko, Nicholas Pontiff, Anthony Ranaudo and Ryan Schimpf.
Paul Mainieri will be making his third CWS appearance, his second as LSU's coach. Javi Sanchez was there last year and in 2002 as Notre Dame's shortstop, playing for Mainieri.
Volunteer coach Will Davis grew up around and played in the LSU program and knows his way around Omaha, including last year's trip, when he was coordinator of baseball operations.
Add in those who made the trip but didn't play in 2008, and you've got a long list of players and coaches who know how to handle nonstop ticket requests from everyone they've ever heard of, what it's like to go to the opening ceremonies and sign autographs, what it's like to spend (and waste) a lot of energy waiting and waiting around in Omaha, what it's like to play before crowds in excess of 20,000 people, where to find the best steaks, when to visit souvenir row and all the other staples of the Omaha experience.
This week they will say -- as many do upon returning for their second trip to the CWS -- "We're not just happy to be here. We're here to win this thing." That's huge, because they'll mean it.
That magic carpet ride of 2008, on the heels of a 23-game winning streak that pulled LSU out of danger of not making it to the postseason at all, was almost too much of a whirlwind tour. A year later, these Tigers will tell you they were thinking about getting back to Omaha before the last out of their elimination-game loss to North Carolina.
Coleman, who gave up the grand slam that gave the Tar Heels a 7-3 victory, was talking about it the next morning before getting on the bus to the airport for the return to Baton Rouge. Getting back to Omaha was a major reason he came back to LSU for his senior season.
Don't misunderstand. College World Series experience is no guarantee of a championship. North Carolina played in the championship series in 2006 and 2007, losing to Oregon State both times, and couldn't get back to the round of two in 2008.
Fresno State came out of nowhere and won it all, defeating a Georgia team with Omaha experience. The championship came in Fresno State's first Omaha appearance since 1991.
Still, you like LSU's chances better because it has 13 players who show up in CWS boxscores, especially when so much of the eight-team field has few or none.
North Carolina has 10 players who played against LSU last year in Omaha, plus Mike Cavasinni, who has CWS experience from 2006 and 2007. That gives the Tar Heels 11 current players with game experience at the College World Series.
In terms of innings and games played at Rosenblatt, it's not even close. The Tar Heels have that all over the Tigers.
So there are your two veteran teams, really, despite what the programs' longterm histories are, despite how many times the laundry has been there.
Another important disclaimer: The other teams come with some Omaha seasoning.
Arizona State coach Pat Murphy is a regular. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is the only coach with a 0-6 record at the CWS (0-4 with Nebraska, 0-2 with the Razorbacks), but that means he's been there three different times.
Virginia coach Brian O'Connor was the pitching coach for Notre Dame in 2002 when the Fighting Irish (and Mainieri, and Sanchez) played in the College World Series. A native of Council Bluffs, Iowa, which borders Omaha, O'Connor pitched for Creighton in its storybook appearance at the 1991 CWS, just up the road from the school's campus in Omaha.
Cal State Fullerton's Dave Serrano coached UC Irvine to a fan-favorite appearance in Omaha in 2007. He pitched for Cal State Fullerton in 1986 (for Augie Garrido) and helped George Horton coach their alma mater to four CWS trips and the program's fourth national championship (2004).
Serrano was also on Tennessee's coaching staff when the Vols made it to Omaha in 1995.
I won't insult your baseball IQ by trying to tell you Garrido's credentials with Cal State Fullerton and Texas (and yet a TCU victory tonight could make that a moot point for this year's CWS).
Omaha experience is no license to order a national championship trophy before the games have been played, but any coach in the tournament would rather begin the postseason with players who have CWS credentials than with players who don't.
Cal State Fullerton won it in 2004 after ending a one-year Omaha drought in 2003. Texas won it in 2005 after winning it in 2002, returning in 2003 and reaching the final series in 2004.
Oregon State won it in 2006 and 2007 after being one of those "just happy to be here" teams in 2005, the program's first CWS appearance since 1952.
LSU has three freshmen who regularly start and an ace closer who have never played in a College World Series game, but they have what the 2008 LSU team lacked: teammates who have been there before.
More than a dozen. Plus, there were others in the travel party who were there and got their feet wet with Omaha experience without having an opportunity to play in a game.
It's baseball, so anything can happen, but you have to think almost everyone in purple and gold will sleep better in Omaha because of that experience.
Carl Dubois is a Baton Rouge-based freelance writer who has covered LSU sports since 1999. You can contact him by writing carl1061 'at' gmail.com.