Image credit: Florida State coach Mike Martin (Courtesy of FSU)
BATON ROUGE, La. — Who knew there would be space for new, cherished memories in this 40-year career?
And yet, there was Florida State’s Mike Martin, soaking up the scene as his last Florida State club punched its unlikely ticket to the College World Series with a 5-4, walk-off win against Louisiana State in Alex Box Stadium. In a career full of moments he will never forget, he had a new one to savor.
“The winning run slid in and the celebration began. I’ll never forget that,” Martin said. “I like to think that we’re not through. We’re going to Omaha—four of my favorite words.”
There was everybody on the Florida State staff circled around Martin, giddy their run will get to continue at the sport’s highest stage. There was athletic trainer Brandon Stone, wrapping the 75-year-old coach in an embrace so tight that the coach started to worry.
“I thought our trainer had broken five of my ribs,” Martin said. “He absolutely gave me one of those bear hugs, and I said, ‘Aw heck, I’ve been trying to hide this bony chest for so long, let it go.’ He hugged me, and I’m saying, ‘That’s what this is all about, because here he’s getting a chance.’
“Those are things you never forget. This night will be etched in stone with me for the rest of my life.”
There was a time not too long ago when this might have been considered a pipe dream. Martin’s last Florida State team was scuffling bad.
There was that stretch in March and April, when the Seminoles dropped 13 games out of 20. They had to sneak into the NCAA Tournament as one of the last at-large teams, a No. 3 seed in the Athens Regional.
Now, they enter the College World Series as winners of six straight, having swept through a pair of SEC host sites on the road. Martin, the NCAA’s winningest coach who somewhat infamously has never won a CWS title in his four decades at Florida State despite 16 appearances, will get one more chance.
“It’s exactly what he deserves, and we’re fortunate enough to do that for him,” said Drew Mendoza, who made the Seminoles a winner with his walk-off RBI single in the 12th inning Sunday. “We’re really excited to get there and enjoy this with them.”
Count LSU coach Paul Mainieri as one who will be pulling for Martin to go out on the best terms.
“I’ll be rooting for him to end his career with a national championship,” Mainieri said.
After most of the celebration had died down, Martin found his wife, Carol, on the field. As they embraced, an ESPN camera caught him saying to her, “I’m so excited, I can’t stand it.”
Carol has been an important piece to all of this as well.
“She’s put up with me for 55 years,” Martin said. “It’s been an experience that is hard to put into words.”
There were nights early in his career when she would wait up for him to return after a road game. The bedtimes might be earlier now, but he still hangs onto that youthful enthusiasm when speaking about his partner who has been at his side for the highs and lows.
“It’s just a relationship in which you look at yourself and you just thank God that this is the woman that chose you and listened when you said, ‘Let’s get married,’” Martin said.
Just about anybody who is anybody in college baseball has a Mike Martin story.
Take the person who was moderating the post-game press conferences in Baton Rouge. Joe Scheuermann has been the head coach at nearby Delgado JC for nearly three decades. When his schedule allows it and LSU hosts in the postseason, he makes the short trip to Baton Rouge to work as an NCAA official.
Before taking the reins at Delgado, he played at Tulane and matched up against a few of Martin’s Florida State teams. With Martin coming to town, he went back and checked the old box scores to see how he fared against the legendary coach.
Scheuermann went a fitting 2-for-18 lifetime against Martin’s clubs, an infinite repeating 11—Martin’s uniform number—for a batting average.
More stories are still being created.
Everybody wanted a piece of Martin as he left Alex Box Stadium, including flocks of purple-and-gold clad fans hounding him for a picture or an autograph. Martin made time for them all as he slowly ambled to a van that was waiting for him.
One last LSU fan wanted to show his appreciation. He spoke to Martin about how he was pulling for the Seminoles to win it all now that LSU was out of it. Martin wanted to see proof of his dedication, asking for the man to perform the Florida State “war chant.”
The man obliged, and Martin’s last act as the van drove away was to laugh into the night.