This is a long column, but I bravely took the calculated risk in inflicting it upon you. For years newspaper consultants (and the editors who believe every word they say) told me people only have time to read on Sundays, and today is Sunday. So ...
If you're not a fan of long-form, narrative storytelling, if you're all about the baseball and nothing else, feel free to scroll down to the notes at the bottom. They're there for you.
That said, this is a baseball column. It's a Father's Day column. If you will indulge me and allow me a few personal reflections, I promise to do my best to leave plenty of room for you and your personal memories.
This is a column where both -- mine and yours -- can come together nicely if we allow them.
If you don't talk to your dad every day, it's OK. Today's a good day to try again. If you talk to him every day, good for you.
If you've heard him answer at any time in the past 29 years, you're more fortunate than I am. If you can call him today and hear his voice, you're luckier than many. If you don't have to pick up a phone to talk with him, count your blessings.
Paul Mainieri is in Omaha, Neb., waiting for his LSU Tigers to play for the college baseball national championship in a three-game series with Texas beginning Monday night. My guess is this Father's Day ranks pretty highly on his list of special days.
His wife, Karen, is with him. His daughters, Alexandra and Samantha, are with him. His sons, Nick and Tommy, are with him. His dad, Demie, is with him.
Fathers and sons and baseball. Someone had the right idea putting Father's Day in baseball season. It wouldn't feel the same associated with another sport.
"Hey, Dad, you wanna have a catch?" Ray Kinsella asks the younger version of his father in the 1989 film "Field of Dreams."
Corny, yes, but it gets us every time, doesn't it? It just wouldn't have worked on a football field. I will not debate this.
So there LSU and its entourage are today in Omaha, an easy drive away from Dyersville, Iowa, where the scene and much of the movie were filmed. Many LSU fans have made the trip and visited the cornfield that became a baseball field
Many fathers and sons have traveled there for a game of catch. Father's Day is a particularly popular day for such a journey.
No one should be surprised to find some purple and gold there today.
But that game of catch, even if it's years overdue, can happen anywhere -- even in your mind.
That Paul Mainieri and his sons can toss the ball around on a practice field in Omaha or a nearby community the day before LSU plays in the national championship series is one of those rare treats few men ever experience.
Being on the same ballfield together is nothing new for Mainieri and his boys. It's been a family affair since his first season coaching the Tigers in 2007. The dugout, at Alex Box Stadium and on road trips, is an extension of the home.
Before an LSU-South Carolina game two years ago in Columbia, S.C., I took the liberty of telling Nick Mainieri how lucky he was.
Lucky to have a father who could give him advice about work. Nick was a fresh graduate of Notre Dame, and he was about to begin his first job after college.
He was lucky to have a father who knew what he was talking about when giving him advice about work. Nick was about to spend a year as a personal assistant to Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis, and Paul, a former Notre Dame baseball coach, could speak about the nuances of such a position in ways most fathers could never do.
I sat in Paul's office one day when he spoke on the phone with Nick about what a big-time college coach expects from an aide, and the longer he spoke the more it dawned on me I needed to leave the room and let them speak in privacy. Not long after, I told Nick he was lucky to have a dad who could have that conversation as a father and a coach.
I told Nick he was lucky to have his father still around. My dad died when I was 19, I said, just a few years younger than Nick was at the time.
Enjoy your time together, I said. It's not guaranteed to last.
Two years later they are having the most magical season of their lives, and they are experiencing it together. Chances are you've seen videos and photos of Mainieri in Omaha, with at least one of his family members in the background.
You've seen them in the stands watching games. You've seen them on the dugout steps.
Could a father ask for more?
I remember more games of catch with my sisters or my mom than I do with my father. I learned to bunt with the boys in the neighborhood before I was sure if they were saying "bunt" or "punt."
Honestly, I don't remember a game of catch with my dad. The closest is recalling the time I encouraged him to dunk (he was 6-foot-3), and it was years before I realized the motivation behind his soft dunk was to keep from pulling the backboard down off the roof of the garage.
The backyard game of toss? No memory of it. Not even sure if it happened.
He made it to almost every game I played, and perhaps even more admirably, he never tried to tell the coaches how to do their jobs. He was not shy about telling me how to hit the ball.
Can you fault a dad for "Keep your eye on the ball," even if it's from the Captain Obvious book of cliche-speak?
He would dissect every word of every newspaper story written about every American Legion game I played, looking for perceived slights in the language the sportswriters used. He once had me convinced a reference to a "short single" to the outfield was some kind of dig. Only a fiercely loyal and proud dad would do such a thing.
How funny it was years later when I found myself on the other end of that dynamic, trying to explain to fathers they were reading too much into my writing about their baseball-playing sons.
Thanks for the karma, dad.
Some of the last memories of him have associations with baseball. As he lay dying in a Lake Charles hospital, the Houston Astros were having the best season in their history. The team whose games he took me to see when I was a little boy and the Astrodome was a shiny new wonder of the world, lost the NLCS to the Philadelphia Phillies, and by then his mind was preoccupied with more urgent business.
During practice one day at Cowboy Diamond, I noticed a greeting card on the bench in the home dugout. I asked one of my McNeese State teammates about it, and he redirected me and quickly dismissed the subject. Later I learned it was a Get Well card signed by the entire team and presented to my dad by a childhood friend who was now a college teammate.
Today I think I'll ask my sisters if they know of the card's whereabouts. They found a lot of my dad's things three years ago after my mother died. That anniversary is less than two weeks away. I'm sure they will put their hands on some touchstones of remembrance.
As she lay dying in a Houston hospital in late June 2006, LSU was hiring Paul Mainieri to be its baseball coach. As we put CWS games on the TV in her room (she was a fan and loved to watch), I remembered her being involved in my backyard games more than my father was.
There is a big part of this Father's Day that belongs to her, and not just for that reason. The others, I will keep to myself.
During some idle time yesterday, I found myself remembering LSU's search for a coach three years ago, and how I kept up from a distance during the occasional breaks from the vigil at my mother's bedside at M.D. Anderson. On a lunch break, I listened online to the news conference at which Mainieri was introduced by Skip Bertman.
The pieces were falling into place for Mainieri to be in Omaha today, with his dad, with his boys, with his family.
That's quite the Father's Day.
A few days after my mom died, Les Miles pulled me aside after an informal news conference and offered his condolences. He told me what helped after the loss of his father was to be able to talk about him, and he said if I ever needed to talk ...
So if I've gone on too long today, maybe you should blame Les for encouraging me.
In some ways, it's perfect this is an off day at the College World Series. The families of the coaches (not just Mainieri, but the others who are dads) can enjoy their day away from the ESPN cameras that, despite the best intentions, would largely intrude upon the moment in overhyped voyeurism. It's best this way.
Still, there is a part of each of us, I think, that doesn't mind sharing our dads and our stories, even if they are not all Hallmark moments.
In 2003 I wrote a column about Nick Saban and the loss of his father, about the players on his LSU football team who'd lost fathers at roughly the same age -- roughly the same age I was when I lost mine. Letters and e-mails came pouring in from all over the country.
What I learned is there are people who connect their personal experiences with those of people who open up to them, and there are some people who need a nudge in the right direction to reconnect with their families.
One young man wrote to me about his rocky relationship with his estranged father. He told me he picked up the phone, called his dad and scheduled a golf game with him. It was a start, he said.
To this day I don't know if that was a gift from my dad to them or a blessing for me from all of the above, but it told me there are rare moments when it's OK to break from the discipline of trying to stay out of the story. More than one man and and woman reestablished connections with fathers after reading that column, so I forgave myself for getting personal in print.
Today felt like another day on which I could tell you a few things about baseball and dads from my chair and my point of view, and there was a good chance you wouldn't mind. If nothing else, I hope it unlocks some memories that give more meaning to this Father's Day for you.
Truth be told, I didn't know exactly where I was going when I started writing this column. I knew some of the places it would take us. I didn't know how it would end.
I knew I'd want to mention there are players in Omaha who have their fathers with them on this special day. I knew I'd not want to forget those whose fathers, for whatever reason, are not there. I knew I'd try to be sensitive to those of you who may never have known your father, and those of you -- like me -- who don't know what it's like to be one.
Now, this many words later, I know how it ends: It ends with me having a game of catch in my mind, and I'm not just tossing the ball around with my dad. I'm tossing it to you, along with a few memories, and my glove is ready anytime you want to throw back to me.
Happy Father's Day.
-- -- -- Notes
Selected notes courtesy of NCAA, LSU and Texas research:
* This year's champion will be the first top-eight national seed to win the CWS since Rice in 2003. Texas is the No. 1 national seed, LSU the No. 3 national seed for the postseason tournament. Champions Cal State Fullerton (2004), Texas (2005), Oregon State (2006, 2007) and Fresno State (2008) were not national seeds.
* This is the first CWS since 2001 and the sixth since the two-bracket format began in 1988 with two teams that advanced through bracket play without a loss (also 1991, 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2001).
* LSU is the third Southeastern Conference team in five years to advance to the championship finals. The others: Florida (2005) and Georgia (2008).
* The Tigers are 5-0 in program history when playing for a national title. LSU has never played Texas for a national championship.
* LSU will finish the season with the most victories in the nation (currently 54) regardless of what happens in the championship series. Arizona State ended the season Friday with 51, the second-highest total in the country. Texas (49-14-1) can match that with a national championship.
* LSU remains perfect (8-0) in this year's NCAA tournament. No team has gone undefeated in the tournament since the championship series was established in 2003. The last team to go undefeated in the NCAA tournament was Miami in 2001.
* Texas is 36-1 when holding opponents to three runs or less and now leads the country in ERA (2.88). Arizona State is next at 2.89. LSU has a 3.99 ERA.
* LSU is 42-6 this season when scoring first, 25-0 when scoring at least 10 runs. The Tigers are 24-3 when hitting two or more homers in a game.
* Texas is 11-0 when hitting two or more homers in a game this season.
* After defeating Arkansas twice last week, LSU has an all-time 8-2 CWS record against SEC teams.
-- -- -- Quotable
"I think LSU has played the best baseball in this tournament all around. They've been the most consistent team in the tournament. ... If it's about drama, we've got that." -- Texas coach Augie Garrido Schedule
The schedule for the championship series: Monday
6 p.m. CDT --
LSU (visitor) vs. Texas (home). Tuesday
6 p.m. CDT --
Texas (visitor) vs. LSU (home). Wednesday
6 p.m. CDT --
LSU (visitor) vs. Texas (home). .
began covering LSU sports on a regular basis in 1999. He hopes you will forgive him for taking a day off from his usual LSU coverage to tell you a different kind of story, and he hopes you can make this a special Father's Day. You can contact Carl by writing carl1061 'at' gmail.com.