Bertman happy for Bianco, Rebels
This week’s Q & A is with former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman, who coached Mike Bianco and also hired to his first job as an assistant coach.
John Davis: How good does it feel for you to see Mike make it to the College World Series?
Skip Bertman: I think Mike has earned this trip with some other great players before where they didn’t win the super regional and had a low percentage loss that prevented them from going. I think most people are very, very happy for Mike, my wife and I included. We think he did a great job especially because he beat a very, very good seeded team at their own field after losing the first game. I think that says a lot for Mike to hold his team together.
Davis: With you still living in Louisiana, you know how good Louisiana-Lafayette is? How big was this win to you in front of all those fans?
Bertman: They’re the greatest fans. UL-L really had a great year. Having the depth in pitching in which he controls as the pitching coach and the head coach has to be especially satisfying for Mike. I know UL-L is really good and extraordinarily strong, especially at home. It’s just a real good coaching job, a real good playing job by all involved. It’s great for Mike to get to be able to go to Omaha.
Davis: I know you have followed his career. You were still at LSU, leaving, when he first came to Ole Miss. There have been so many moments for him to be this close and not come through, that had to be especially pleasing to you, right?
Bertman: Yes. I think that the history of college baseball, especially now that it’s the poster sport of parity in college sports, it’s a big deal. What parity means is that every year, there will be schools vying to go to the World Series and some that make it for the first time like Texas Tech, or Ole Miss for the first time in many, many years. On the other hand, they had to battle through some times where they could have gone but somebody who was a little bit further ahead in their development as a program won the game in the ninth inning or they had one player that was superior and they went ahead, and of course that’s what happened to Mike. He’s been in five super regionals and I think that his overall record in wins and losses is especially good, especially in the conference. Of course the fact that he puts out a lot of players and that everybody that goes there improves.
Davis: What do you think about Ole Miss? What do you think about his team having watched them? It seems like a complete team to me. What are your thoughts?
Bertman: Let me answer that by saying doesn’t he play Virginia in the first round?
Davis: He does play Virginia in the very first game. Texas Tech and TCU are also in the bracket.
Bertman: I watched all the games and games that Mike didn’t participate in and the parity of 11.7 scholarships for 35 guys and only 27 of which can get the scholarship, and the bats, and the improvement of facilities all around have equalized the sport. There really is no end to good baseball players. You don’t have to be 6-foot-8 and don’t have to run the 40 in a special time and I think the parity has put teams in a position … I think it’s more difficult for Mike to get to Omaha than it was when I coached. There were some teams that didn’t compete and didn’t care about competing in baseball. Now everybody competes. I guess that’s good that teams compete but it’s sad that UCLA, the national champion of last year, isn’t even in the field of 64. Or that only two national seeds make it to Omaha. In a way that’s kind of sad but it’s good that there is an opportunity for a lot of people.
Davis: And what are your thoughts on his team? Do you like their balance?
Bertman: He really has a good offensive team. There are guys that hit that have 500 college at bats or 400 college at bats. There are guys that have been in playoffs. Like you say, they have a tremendous amount of balance. They play wonderful defense. But I think the thing I like most is how the pitching is handled and the fact that all three pitchers that pitched for him (Monday) all did relatively well. Where it appeared that the other team (UL-L) pitching more pitchers and trying more people and looking for somebody to come through. Mike had that guy on the mound. (Josh) Laxer is a guy he wanted on the mound and certainly when he had the lead, he seemed to throw harder and could smell the victory. And that, in my opinion, would be a good example of a team that was well coached.
Davis: And the family, years ago you recruited Mike and his family was involved, his father was there Monday night. His dad was in the dugout, all his kids were there, Camie was there, knowing this family as long as you have, what are your thoughts on the win for them?
Bertman: I don’t mean to crow, but that’s something he learned from me, that family first was the way to go when he coached. It means that you won’t burn out. It means that you will be a good father, a good husband, win or lose, and I think Mike does that. We did see some of the family there on TV. My wife actually cried. We were very happy for Mike and I saw him get a hug from one of his kids. I was really happy for that and that his family is happy, healthy and participating in athletics. It means a lot to me when people from my program, the beginning of LSU where Mike went to Omaha but didn’t win, can go. We might have had better players than the other team, but some of those teams had more experience in Omaha than we had. It took us a while, but then it all fell into place because of people like Mike and his battery mate Ben McDonald and the first baseman Pete Bush and others. Those were the people that built the program. I think wherever the alumni of Ole Miss are, they should feel proud of themselves for helping build this like Mike does at LSU.
Davis: Obviously everything changes out in Omaha. Kids that think they know how to deal with the media, fan fare and all of that get a whole new experience. What do you have to guard against as a coach?
Bertman: There is a way to go to Omaha, and the first thing I would say to Mike, and any other team, is for this two-week period, let’s not have parents involved, girlfriends involved, getting caught up in a time that you get in Omaha. Unlike the football playoffs or the Final Four in basketball, track & field, gymnastics and many other sports, baseball is very, very long and it’s two weeks. And the kids can get tired, away from home, away from their parents and girlfriends or other friends. They can get caught up in the excitement and pageantry and all the TV. Omaha is a great city in itself. You have to stay self-contained as a team for a long period of time, nothing like they have ever done. Other coaches in my era would take teams 30 to 40 miles away from Omaha to try and not get involved with it all. Today, all the hotels are picked for you in advance, but you do have the two-out-of-three series at the end. I think Mike has a real good chance of getting there because of his pitching staff.