Tigers’ hearts big in Louisiana

“People in south Louisiana have great resiliency,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, whose players helped flood victims. “And the people of Omaha know they are about as generous a people as there are in the country.”

Paul Mainieri knows rain.

He grew up in hurricane-swept south Florida. He played college baseball at two schools (LSU and New Orleans) equally familiar with swirling downpours.

And two-thirds of his baseball coaching career has been spent in those two areas. He now is in his 10th year at LSU, and is a great friend of the College World Series and what the Tigers call their second home — Omaha.

So, yes, the man knows rain, via geography and his profession.

Then came Aug. 11-12, and everything the 59-year-old thought he knew about water tumbling from the sky changed.

“I lived through hurricanes in Miami and here,” Mainieri said by phone from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “But this was strange beyond strange.”

What at first looked like normal rainfall from an unnamed storm began about 5 p.m. on Aug. 11.

“I looked outside my office, and said, ‘OK, it’s raining,’ ” Mainieri said. “And it rained all night. And then you woke up and it was still raining.

“About 3 o’clock that afternoon, I looked out and said, ‘Man, when is it going to stop?’ It poured nonstop since 4 or 5 the day before.”

Word soon came that LSU’s campus was closing. So Mainieri got in his car to drive home.

“There was water like I’d never seen before,” he said. “And it was in places that had never had any water problems ever before.”

By the time the rain stopped, Baton Rouge had about 22 inches in 48 hours. The town of Watson, just to the northeast, had gauges with 31.3 inches. The normal average rainfall for the area in the first two weeks of August is 2 inches.

Scientists have calculated that the Aug. 11-12 rains dumped three times the water on southeastern Louisiana that Hurricane Katrina did. There have been 13 deaths and 60,000 homes damaged or destroyed.

Another telling statistic: About 30 percent of the school-aged population in the state has been displaced just as school was to begin.

“The devastation here,” Mainieri said with a sigh, “is mind-blowing. This hasn’t gotten near the attention nationally that it should.”

Drive through certain neighborhoods and it’s like there are 5-foot-high snowdrifts on either side of the street. Those “drifts” are people’s sofas, carpets, beds, clothes and photo albums.

“People have to get the wet things out of their houses to make sure mold doesn’t grow,” Mainieri said, “but there is no place to put stuff.”

One day last week, Mainieri was about to visit a shelter just to offer hugs or handshakes. His daughter is a counselor and had described the despair she was seeing.

Then came a text from the family of former LSU pitching star Ben McDonald. He was out of town for his work with the Baltimore Orioles, but his mother-in-law needed help after seeing 4 feet of water flow into her home.

“I sent a text out to my team,” Mainieri said. “School hadn’t started and we hadn’t even gotten together yet.”

So clearing out a flooded house in nearby Denham Springs became the unofficial first team meeting for 2016-17.

“We had 20 guys show up,” Mainieri said. “We had freshmen who hadn’t even met their teammates. (All-America pitcher) Alex Lange was on one end of a couch, and a freshman was on the other end and they were introducing themselves.”

The players ripped up wood floors and knocked down mushy drywall besides hauling furniture.

“Then I couldn’t believe what our players did,” Mainieri said. “Totally unprompted, they went to every home on that street and offered to help. These people were so filled with gratitude that these big, strong young men wanted to help.

“They ended up helping 12 homeowners. And then they went out four or five more days and did it again for 10 hours a day helping perfect strangers.”

That’s no surprise to the Nebraskans who have made friends with Louisiana folks every June at the College World Series. It’s the type of spirit that has bonded like-minded people who work hard until the work is done, and then play hard.

Now, it’s time for Nebraskans to offer their Cajun pals some help.

Maybe it’s a prayer or a Red Cross donation or a box of essentials. Anything will help, Mainieri said, because after the adrenaline rush from dealing with the initial tragedy, the grim reality of the messy rebuild ahead is weighing folks down.

“People in south Louisiana have great resiliency and are tough as nails,” Mainieri said. “And the people of Omaha know they are about as generous a people as there are in the country.

“Through floods and oil spills and hurricanes and a down economy, people here have always bounced back. But this is a genuine catastrophe. This will be a very difficult time, and only time will tell if we find a way to fight through it.”

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