The last days of the man they call 11 are upon us.
Ok that might be a bit melodramatic, considering Mike Martin isn’t dying he’s just retiring.
Martin announced last June that the 2019 season would be his 40th and final as the head coach of the Florida State baseball team. He’s been a part of the program for 55 years. First as a player, then an assistant coach and finally as the steward of one of the most consistent programs in the country.
He has the most wins of any coach in NCAA history — in any sport — with 2,023 entering this weekend. The last of which turned out to be pretty important. FSU defeated North Carolina State 11-0 in seven innings last week at the ACC Tournament, and then two days later were named one of the last four teams in, for the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed in the Athens regional.
This is the 42nd consecutive season FSU has made the postseason, going a perfect 40-for-40 with Martin as the head coach. FSU has reached the College World Series 16 times under Martin, which is both an impressive feat and fuel to the fire of those who choose to criticize the man for the one hole in his resume.
Despite all its success, FSU has never won a national championship in baseball. That’s the fact that many people choose to define Martin by, but those people are wrong.
Martin is not defined by the fact that his teams have never won their final game. He’s defined by the love and passion he’s put on display during his time as the Seminoles head coach. FSU alumni couldn’t ask for a better representative of the university.
Not to mention they’ve been in the mix every season since he’s been there. Other programs have championships, but they also have long stretches of being irrelevant as they missed out on the postseason altogether. If the Seminoles (36-31) fail to get four more wins this season, it will be the first time in Martin’s career that his team has not won at least 40 games.
So the lack of a national championship is not what defines Martin to me. What I’ll remember him for is the toughness his teams always had, and more importantly, the way he treated people.
I was fortunate enough to get a front-row seat to his program during my time in Tallahassee. Martin was always more gracious with me than I deserved. Whether I was a young intern for The Osceola who blew a fuse in the press box by plugging into a busted outlet (for real that happened at the first game I covered) or the beat writer for Warchant.com years later, he was always welcoming to me.
Postgame he’d answer any questing you threw his way and if you happened to catch him mid-round on the phone, he’d give you from tee to green to ask what you needed.
That’s why this season has been so tough to watch from afar (I assume it’s not much better in person either). FSU is a young team and has struggled mightily throughout the year. They enter Friday’s NCAA opener against Florida Atlantic (noon on WatchESPN) with just a .963 fielding percentage (which ranks 214 out of 297 teams in the country), a .268 batting average (211) and a 4.67 ERA (122).
The 75 errors recorded this season are a big reason why I don’t expect the Seminoles to get those last four wins. I hope I’m wrong, and that they play with a free and loose spirit that comes with being a perennial postseason participant with no expectations.
Maybe they’ll pull it off and even get Martin that one last trip to Omaha. It doesn’t seem likely though, so I plan to just enjoy the weekend’s regional games for what they likely are, the last days of 11 in the FSU dugout.
There will never be another coach who cares for Florida State as a whole the way Martin has. So it doesn’t matter if he never wins another game, his legacy was cemented long ago.
(Photo: Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)