TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Mike Martin’s first trip to the College World Series was 52 years ago when he played for Florida State. He is hoping when he leaves Omaha, Nebraska, this year, this time it will be with his first national championship.
After struggling for most of the season, Florida State won 12 of its final 13 games to get to the College World Series for the 22nd time in school history. Martin has been a part of all but four, including 16 as the head coach. Only Wichita State’s Gene Stephenson has led a team to the CWS more times (17).
“It’s special seeing player’s eyes the first time they get to the ballpark. They’re treated like they’ve never been treated before,” Martin said. “These are memories they will cherish forever.”
Martin and his former players have savored the journey to Omaha, but most of the memories when it comes to the actual games have been less pleasant. Going into Saturday’s first game against LSU, Martin — who has 1,943 wins and needs 33 more to become the winningest coach in college baseball history — is 20-30 in the CWS. He has only twice led the Seminoles to the finals (1986 and 1999).
In six of their last seven appearances, the Seminoles have dropped the first game and quickly found themselves in the loser’s bracket. They have won the first two games in the CWS just twice.
This might be Martin’s best team to reverse past trends.
— FSU Seminoles (@Seminoles) June 12, 2017
Going into the final week of the regular season, Florida State needed to sweep then-No. 2 Louisville on the road in order to prevent its first losing record in conference play. The Seminoles (45-21) won both games which started a run where they would win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, win four straight in the Tallahassee Regional after dropping the first game and then sweep Sam Houston State in last weekend’s super regional.
Three wins over the past three weeks has come in the final at-bat.
“I would say up to this point it is one of the most special years that I’ve had in the 38 years I’ve made out a lineup,” Martin said. “It makes me as one of the coaches feel good because a team believed in themselves. They didn’t point fingers or said they couldn’t get a break. They said they had to get it done.”
Martin’s chase of a title will make him the sentimental favorite among fans this week. Jim Costello, who is with the Omaha Kiwanis Club, has known Martin for 37 years and will be the team’s host when they arrive on Thursday.
“I have a lot of friends who are Florida State baseball fans this week because they are hoping his team can win a couple games and be clicking at the right time,” Costello said.
There hasn’t always been a love affair with Martin from the fans in Omaha. Local fans in the early 1990’s booed Florida State often as frustration for its football team beating Nebraska in New Year’s Day bowl games.
That caused Martin in 1994 during a news conference to try and make a peace offering by saying: “This is for all the Nebraska people: Unless we meet on New Year’s Night, go Big Red!”
Since the two schools haven’t met on the gridiron since 1993, the hostilities are a faded memory.
“I hope they do latch on to us and treat us like a home team That would be great if they did. I know we are going to be outnumbered by LSU fans the first game,” Martin said about how his team might be treated this year.
Florida State is the only team on its side of the bracket that doesn’t have a national title — LSU has six, Cal State Fullerton four and Oregon State two. Junior Taylor Walls is hoping that changes by the end of this tournament.
“There are so many reasons why I would want to win it but it would mean a lot to all the people who played here and what he has done,” Walls said.