Is he old? Yes.
Out-of-touch with the modern game? Perhaps, seems to depend on the day.
Passionate and 100% committed to Florida State baseball? Without question.
Nearly two years ago to the day, I wrote a piece defending Mike Martin after the Seminoles went two and a barbecue in a Super Regional for the second time in three years and just one season removed from an 0-2 in its own Regional. After the 2012 season resulted in the third trip to Omaha in five years, things still seemed to be business as usual for the Noles until the blip that fueled my blog post to defend him. Then came the last two seasons.
Another Super Regional exit in Gainesville last year. This season, a veteran team that was ranked number one in the country early in the year, only to fall so far that there were legitimate whispers that the team might miss out on the postseason for the first time since 1977. A late season push ensured that the streak of consecutive NCAA Regional appearances would extend to 40, but as impressive as that number is, there were still plenty of doubts as to the validity of this bunch to do anything come June. Then came the loss to Tennessee Tech in the Tallahassee Regional opener.
(It should be mentioned that the last time Florida State went on the road for a regional was 2010, when two seed Connecticut was strangely awarded the right to host, and the one seeded Seminoles traveled 1,200 miles to sweep its way back home for a Super. The season came to a close in Omaha that year.)
After losing a pitchers duel in game one, the detractors resurfaced. “We’ve seen this script before” they said. But then something funny happened: FSU went right back to its winning ways. Scrapping its way out of a losers bracket. Getting heroic pitching performances from unlikely candidates. Surviving extensive rain delays. Crushing baseballs.
So now the Noles find themselves in familiar territory: back in Omaha for a 22 time as a program, and for the first time since 2012. For the first time in a while though, it feels like the script is not written already. An underdog mentality has defined this bunch, that seem just as comfortable when behind on the scoreboard as ahead. In a postseason tailored to reward the hottest and loosest team more than the best team, these Seminoles seem as well positioned as any previous garnet and gold clad bunch to prevail in Omaha. And that is a direct reflection of the head coach.
For years, it felt like the burden of winning it all hung over Mike Martin’s head. Florida State was annually one of the top programs in the country, featured multiple Golden Spikes Award winners and churned out Major Leaguers. They were supposed to win the big one, but never did. Instead, fellow bluebloods LSU and Miami racked up the titles. Normally average programs like Oregon State and South Carolina stacked together incredible back-to-back campaigns. And mid-majors like Cal State Fullerton and, most recently, Coastal Carolina provided parity with postseason runs. But Florida State could not get even one. And as pressured mounted over the years, it appeared to trickle down to the team.
The Noles were last runners-up in 1999, and Marshall McDougall (he of NCAA record six home runs in one game fame) was named tournament Most Outstanding Player in the losing effort. But unlike teams before it, saddled with rankings, expectations and high draft picks, this group is playing as free and easy as I have ever seen a Florida State bunch do. Any question as to why has to go back to Martin. The video circulating that shows Martin addressing his team after it clinched a College World Series berth vs. Sam Houston State tells it all.
Does Martin still bunt too often? Yes.
Has he been beaten on the recruiting trail over the last few years? Definitely.
Is the 73-year-old operating with a new lease on life? I don’t know that for sure, but it sure looks like it. And his team could ride that new energy all the way.