OMAHA, Neb. – More than a decade ago, when Tyler Holton was an eight-year-old kid growing up in Tallahassee and spending his summer nights at Dick Howser Stadium, Holton brought up a dream to his father, Kelley.
“I was like, ‘Dad, I want to go to Omaha if Florida State wins Super Regionals,” Holton said. “And he was like,
‘I don’t know about this year. But we’re going to go one day.’” “One day” came on Friday, when Kelley Holton and his wife, Debbie, met up with Tyler, now a sophomore pitcher on the FSU baseball team, and the rest of his Seminole teammates at their downtown Omaha hotel. Kelley Holton is one of 22 Seminole dads to make the trip to the College World Series, which means 22 fathers got to spend Father’s Day with their sons in the best place a college baseball player could imagine.
After FSU’s practice on Sunday afternoon, the players and families took part in a private barbecue before returning for the evening game at TD Ameritrade Park.
“It’s really special,” said senior second baseman Matt Henderson, whose father Pat flew in from Chico, Calif. “I’m glad he could make the trip, and I know he’s enjoying every moment here just like I am.”
Of course, there may be no college baseball program in the country more synonymous with father-son relationships than Florida State.
Mike Martin Jr. first played for his father from 1993-95, then joined the FSU staff as an assistant coach three years later.
The two have made nine trips to Omaha together, two during Martin Jr.’s playing days, and seven more as coaches.
This year, Martin Jr. said, carries even more significance as his two sons, Tyler and T.J. are along for the ride as well.
“It’s a family memory, no doubt,” Martin Jr. said.
“It undoubtedly is special,” Martin added. “Of course, that’s what you want, whether you’re here or at home or wherever you might be. Because family is so important in our lives.”
That connection extends to assistant Mike Bell, too.
Bell, FSU’s pitching coach since 2012, first came to the CWS with his dad Mike in 1994, when Bell was a pitcher for the Seminoles and a teammate of Martin Jr.’s.
Twenty-three years later, Bell is back in Omaha with his dad, as well as his own son, Kyler.
“It’s a neat deal for our family as well,” Bell said.
Red-Hot Walls Makes FSU history
Any time an FSU baseball player puts his name alongside that of Paul Sorrento, he must be doing something right.
That’s exactly what junior shortstop Taylor Walls did Saturday, when he reached base safely in his 14th consecutive at-bat and broke a record that Sorrento had held since 1985.
“To have your name up there competing with big-leaguers, some of the greatest, is an accomplishment,” Walls said. “But that’s not something I’m worried about any time soon.”
Instead, Walls, FSU’s leadoff hitter, is focused on helping the Seminoles extend their season against Cal State Fullerton on Monday.
Still, his numbers are remarkable: He’s been on base 15 times in Florida State’s last three games and scored 11 runs during that span. And as of Saturday night, he had walked a nation’s-best 66 times.
Just four games ago, during regional play, Walls’ batting average was .262. It’s since climbed to .278.
Walls, a Cordele, Ga., native was picked by the Tampa Bay Rays in the third round of last week’s MLB draft. And Martin believes Walls will be in the big leagues sooner rather than later.
“I think I’m seeing a guy that we’re going to be looking at very soon on a channel of your choice,” Martin said. “He is playing that kind of baseball. And he’ll play it as a shortstop.
“He is displaying pure leadoff capabilities. You throw the ball over the plate, he’s ready to hit. You try to get him to chase, sorry. He knows what he’s doing and, to watch him play, it’s a joy.”
Martin: ‘All the confidence in the world’ in catcher Raleigh
Sophomore catcher Cal Raleigh has perhaps been the greatest constant on this year’s FSU baseball team, having started all 67 games in the sport’s most physically-demanding position.
Which made it easy for Martin to back his iron man after a game in which Raleigh had two plays that he no doubt would like to have back.
LSU scored a pair of runs after FSU miscues on Saturday night — one when Raleigh couldn’t hang on to a third strike and then had the ball slip out of his hand when throwing to first base in the bottom of the first inning. And another when the ball popped out of his glove on a play at the plate in the eighth, the last of three errors charged to the Seminoles on a single play. (Right fielder Steven Wells had the other two.)
But Martin on Sunday reiterated his faith in his backstop, and said the best thing Raleigh can do is resist the urge to overanalyze those plays and instead turn his focus to the next pitch.
That will come around 2 p.m. on Monday.
“Cal Raleigh, he’s a warrior,” Martin said. “That’s the only way I can describe him. He’s going to go out there every night and give it everything he has. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him.”
Raleigh has started 118 straight games behind the plate dating back to last season, and he served as the team’s designated hitter in the 119th game. When Martin offered to give him a breather at the end of FSU’s Super Regional rout of Sam Houston State last week, Raleigh declined. He wanted to be on the field with his teammates when they clinched their spot in Omaha.