TALLAHASSEE — Mike Martin's first trip to the College World Series was 52 years ago when he played for Florida State. He is hoping by the time he leaves Omaha, Neb., this time it will be with his first national championship.
After struggling for most of the season, FSU won 12 of its final 13 games to get to the CWS for the 22nd time in school history. Martin has been a part of all but four, including 16 as head coach. Only Wichita State's Gene Stephenson has led a team to the CWS more times (17).
"It's special seeing players' eyes the first time they get to the ballpark. They're treated like they've never been treated before," Martin, 73, 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 tonight's opener against LSU (Tyler Holton is the scheduled starting pitcher), Martin — who has 1,943 wins and needs 33 to become the winningest college baseball coach of all time — is 20-30 in the CWS. He has led the Seminoles to the finals in 1986 and 1999.
In six of their past seven appearances, the Seminoles have dropped the first game. They have won the first two games in the CWS just twice.
This might be Martin's best team to reverse past trends.
Going into the final week of the regular season, FSU 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 ACC tournament, win four straight in the Tallahassee Region after dropping the first game and then sweep Sam Houston State in last weekend's Super Region.
Three wins over the past three weeks have come in the final at-bat.
"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 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."
MORE CWS: Each of the eight teams has played in the World Series at least once since 2011, with Florida in it for the sixth time in eight years and TCU, the Gators' opponent Sunday when former Alonso High standout Alex Faedo is scheduled to start, for the fourth straight year. Four teams rank among the top 12 in all-time appearances. FSU is fourth (22), Cal State Fullerton and LSU are tied for seventh (18), and UF is 12th (11). "I think this is the most complete field I've seen," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "There are no Cinderellas." … Oregon State leftfielder Christian Donahue was suspended for the entire CWS for an unspecified violation of team rules.
FOOTBALL: Penn State will debut throwback uniforms against Indiana on Sept. 30. The white helmets will sport blue numbers on the sides, like from the 1950s through the early '70s. And white cleats will call to mind the 1979 Sugar Bowl.