January 26, 2011 - by

Diamond Time!

Jan. 26, 2011

By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Mike Martin enters his 32nd season at the helm of the Florida State baseball team as college baseball’s active leader in winning percentage as the Seminoles hit the field Friday for the first team practice of 2011.

Florida State returns seven position starters and a seasoned pitching staff from last season’s 48-20 club, which won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and advanced to the College World Series. That experience and a history of sustained success provide the backdrop as the Seminoles prepare to start anew with the same goal that never grows old.

“See you in Omaha,” is more than Martin’s favorite phrase. It’s the mission statement of a program that has made 20 appearances on college baseball’s top stage.

There’s a lot to like about the 2011 Seminoles. All-American Mike McGee, winner of the 2010 John Olerud Award as the nation’s best two-way player, returns for his senior season after leading the team in homers and RBI, while recording 13 saves as the closer. Junior left-hander Sean Gilmartin has amassed 21 career victories in two seasons.

Experience abounds. Seniors Stuart Tapley and Rafael Lopez, juniors Sherman Johnson and James Ramsey and sophomores Devon Travis and Jayce Boyd all played key roles in last season’s success.

“The attitude of the club is excellent,” Martin said. “Everyone understands what it takes to get to Omaha. Now it’s up to us to go out and compete.”

The Seminoles don’t have long to wait before getting started on an ambitious schedule, which opens Feb. 18 with the first of three games against VMI at Dick Howser Stadium. But before the season gets started, there are several events that will put Martin’s 2011 club face-to-face with a fan base that once again ranks among the nation’s best:

• Fan Day is set for Saturday, Feb. 12 at Howser Stadium and will run from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and be followed by a scrimmage open to the public at 2 p.m. Beyond collecting autographs, posters and the like, fans can also wish Martin a happy birthday.

• The annual Leadoff Dinner is set for Feb. 17 in the University Center Grand Ball Room, with a social hour beginning at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7.

The action comes fast and furious once the season begins. FSU plays seven of its first eight games at home, with the Feb. 24 exhibition against the Philadelphia Phillies at Brighthouse Networks Park in Clearwater the lone exception.

FSU will meet Florida on March 1 in the Florida Four Classic at the New York Yankees’ minor league facility in Tampa, before traveling to Georgia for a three-game series. The `Noles also have a neutral site date with the Gators at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville on March 29.

The ACC home schedule includes visits from Boston College (March 11-13), Wake Forest (March 25-27), North Carolina (April 8-10), Duke (April 22-24) and Clemson (May 19-21). There’s also a three-game homestand with UCF (May 6-8) and the usual array of midweek games which will include visits from Jacksonville, Maine, Stetson, North Georgia, Valdosta State, Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.

The postseason begins with a title defense at the ACC Tournament, which will be played in Durham, NC this season. NCAA Regional play, which has included FSU each of the last 33 seasons, begins a week later. Of course, the ultimate goal is to extend the season to June 18 – opening day for the College World Series.

A year ago the Seminoles caught fire just in time to overcome a four-game losing streak en route to ACC, NCAA Regional and Super Regional titles, which earned FSU a trip to Omaha for the final CWS at Rosenblatt Stadium. The 2011 CWS will have a new venue – TD Ameritrade Park -with a 24,000-seat capacity and all of the modern amenities.

“I’m totally convinced that getting to Omaha and the new stadium will be extra special, because there’s only eight teams that have a chance to close one down and open another one up,” Martin said. “We want to be one of those eight.” 

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