More than 40 years ago, Ron Maestri arrived on campus at the University of New Orleans to coach the New Orleans Privateers men’s baseball team. Mase, as Maestri is affectionately known, directed Privateers baseball from 1972-1985, leading the team to two College World Series and the highest winning percentage in university history. He also served as UNO athletic director for more than 20 years. Twice in his life, he led the charge to see UNO athletics play NCAA Division I Athletics. Now, Maestri is back.
“We’re going to the play the game the right way. We’re going to respect the game. We’re going to dress like a baseball player,” says Maestri, who gave up his job as chief operating officer of the New Orleans Zephyrs to return to UNO in July as head baseball coach. “If you look good, you play good. We’re going to act like a player on and off the field, and that’s important to us,” he tells his new players. “We want you in the community. We want you to help. We want you to give back.”
He was 30 years old when he took his first job at UNO in 1971, says the Privateer legend, 72. Chancellor Homer L. Hitt led the University. Ron Greene was athletic director. Hitt said he wouldn’t handcuff him to the job—or pay him well.
“Just go to work,” the chancellor told Maestri, who recalled the memory this summer as he pulled his No. 21 baseball jersey out of retirement.
“The choice to reinstall Ron Maestri at the helm of UNO baseball is part of the continuing renaissance of Privateers athletics,” says UNO President Peter J. Fos. “It’s also a welcome chapter in the new edition of the University of New Orleans. As we set the direction for the University’s future, we are working strenuously to preserve the best of UNO…This is another step toward bringing the University back to the university it once was.”
Fos, who made the decision last year that UNO athletics would remain NCAA Division I and worked to ensure the University was accepted into the Southland Conference, says that on so many fronts, Maestri is exactly what the New Orleans Privateers needed.
During his tenure, the Privateer legend helped the Privateers baseball team rack up 518 wins and a 67.7 winning percentage, the highest in school history. Maestri also led the Privateers to the 1974 NCAA Division II College World Series, where they were runners-up, and the 1984 NCAA Division I College World Series, becoming the first Louisiana team to qualify. The Privateers never had a losing season under Maestri and qualified on nine occasions to play in the NCAA tournament.
But bringing back “Maseball” is about more than just winning games, says Director of Athletics Derek Morel.
“Our coaches, we talk daily about what’s important and why we’re in this business,” says Morel. “And we’re in this for the young women and the young men who represent our university as Division I student-athletes. We talk about that daily. We talk about creating an atmosphere and an experience for them that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
“We talk about a culture, a championship culture, and building a culture where we’re going to help develop these young men, not only into the best athletes and students they can be while they’re here, but also develop them into the best men, the best fathers, the best husbands, the best
employees and the best citizens they can be when they graduate from UNO. Those are important principles for us. We live by those every day and everything we try to do, we do it with those principles in mind.”
As he revamped the Privateers baseball program, Morel says he needed to find “a great leader for what has been arguably, if not the most successful program, certainly one of our most successful programs, and most recognized programs at this University in the 50-plus years we’ve been operating.”
When he and Fos sat down to make their next hire, they decided they needed more than a baseball coach, says Morel, who received scores of high-quality applications for the spot.
In the end, there was only one answer, Morel says.
“We decided we need more than a baseball coach right now. We need someone who is going to make a difference in our community, that is going to make a difference for our university and that is going to lead us to championships in the very near future,” says Morel.
As head coach, Maestri will mastermind recruiting for the baseball program, hold top managerial responsibilities and reposition the team and program as the Privateers strive for glory and championships.
Like any great game, Maseball holds an elite set of standards: You don’t go to class, you don’t play. You play for UNO, you graduate. You play for Maestri, you act like a leader, on and off the field. You play on Maestri’s team, you work as though you’re on a team. No prima
“When we came here in 1971, basically I had an open field and no fence and the kids called the dugout a ‘lean-to.’ It had four poles and a roof over the top,” says Maestri, who didn’t waste any time grilling his new players about their semester grades in the dugout.
Maestri, along with Privateer players and fans, eagerly awaits the conclusion of construction at Privateer Park and Maestri Field, the baseball field renamed in 2002 in his honor. The field is now undergoing a $3 million-plus renovation thanks to generous private donations.
The first game of the new Maestri era takes place Feb. 14, 2014 at Alex Box Stadium against the LSU Tigers, coached by Paul Mainieri, who played for the Privateers under Maestri and remains a close friend. The game will be Maestri’s first appearance in a Division I dugout since May 26, 1985.
The following day, the two teams will play again at Zephyr Field. Before the first pitch is thrown out, UNO will honor both its 1974 and 1984 College World Series teams.
The season-opening series for both clubs will officially open the newly-renovated Privateer Park and serve as UNO Baseball Alumni Weekend. The weekend will include festivities for all former UNO baseball student-athletes. It will also mark the 40th anniversary of the 1974 Division II College World Series team and the 30-year anniversary of the 1984 Division I College World Series team.
Maestri’s magnetism remains strong. On hand at the news conference to announce his return to UNO this summer were several hundred friends and fans, including former UNO baseball player and two-time World Series champion Randy Bush, who is now an executive with the Chicago Cubs; LSU Coach Paul Mainieri and former UNO basketball Coach Tim Floyd.
“Why am I back? I’m back because this is where I spent 30 years of my life, my previous life,” says Maestri. “Thirty years of building something, a great tradition…I’m excited to get out there to work with (the players). Believe me, we’re going to have fun. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”