‘All he talked about was Omaha’: Paul Mainieri’s first message to Gamecock players

‘All he talked about was Omaha’: Paul Mainieri’s first message to Gamecock players

New South Carolina baseball coach Paul Mainieri held his first team meeting on Wednesday, and Cole Messina liked what he heard about the direction of the program.

The Gamecocks catcher talked about the meeting and his first impressions of Mainieri, the former LSU coach who is coming out of retirement to replace Mark Kingston, on Wednesday’s “Inside The Gamecocks Show.

“He had a team meeting on Zoom and he just told us pretty much he is here to have fun but he is here to win,” Messina said. “He is going to run a tight ship and everything is going to be structural. I have heard good things from LSU players. He cares for his players a ton and he is going to bring the best out in you. I have no negatives to say about that guy.”

Mainieri was officially hired on Tuesday and will be introduced at a 4 p.m. press conference Thursday.

A new coach using Zoom for a first team meeting is not uncommon in June, when so many baseball players are not on campus or scattered around the country playing in a summer league.

“(The meeting) made me feel confident,” Messina said. “All he talked about was Omaha. The assistant coaches were in there as well. He introduced them and it seemed they all have the right track record and history. I think the Gamecocks are in a pretty good spot.”

Messina also touched Wednesday on other topics such as Kingston’s firing and the impact assistant coach Monte Lee had on his career. He said he is appreciative of Kingston for taking a chance on him coming out of Summerville High School. Messina credits Lee for help turning his career around the past two seasons.

Lee, the former Clemson head coach, is remaining on the USC staff and became the highest-paid assistant coach in college baseball. The South Carolina Board of Trustees’ governance committee approved Lee’s new deal on Tuesday that will pay him $550,000 a year — up from the $275,000 he was making as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator the past two seasons.

Messina said Lee met with him in the fall of 2022 and challenged him especially to be a more confident player. As a freshman, Messina hit just .133 and played in 17 games. But he hit over .300 the past two seasons as he developed into the Gamecocks’ everyday catcher.

The former Summerville standout hit 38 home runs and had 136 RBIs over the past two years. Messina’s pro stock continued to rise after his performance in the Southeastern Conference tournament, where he hit two homers and had a tournament-record 16 RBIs.

Messina was named a second-team All-American by Perfect Game and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Wednesday.

“I went up to him after the game (last game) and I thanked him. He genuinely turned my career around after a rough freshman year. He knows how I feel about him. He is a really good dude before he is a coach,” Messina said of Lee. “I will talk to that guy for the rest of my life, just not even about baseball but about life. He is a really, really good dude and as a bonus he knows how to coach and how to teach hitting. He is probably one of the greatest coaches I have ever played for.”

Messina, who has one more year of college eligibility left, has likely played his last game for the Gamecocks, although he did leave open the door to return to the program. He is expected to be taken in next month’s Major League Baseball Draft.

MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the 104th-best prospect in the draft. D1Baseball has him going in the middle of Day 2 of the draft.

“If I don’t come back next year, I am appreciative and glad I can call this place home. Little upset we couldn’t make it to Omaha but nothing we could do about it now,” Messina said. “There is a lot to happen but at the end of day I am Gamecock no matter what. If I come back for my senior year, I won’t be mad.”

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