Dec. 15, 2003
Mike Martin will celebrate his 25-year anniversary as Florida State’s head baseball coach when the Seminoles open the 2004 season at new and improved Dick Howser Stadium on January 31st. Better known as #11, Martin has been involved as a player or coach in 32 of the 57 years Seminole baseball has been in existence. In his 24 years as FSU’s head coach, Martin has won 1,293 games with a .750 winning percentage – which makes him the second winningest active coach in college baseball. He’s eighth on the all-time wins list and all 21 of the Seminoles’ 50-win seasons have come under his watch. His teams have advanced to NCAA postseason play in each of his 24 seasons. Most impressively, Florida State is the only school in the country to finish among Collegiate Baseball’s Top 10 in each of the last 10 years.
Q: The 2004 season will mark your 25th year as Florida State’s head baseball coach. Does it seem like you’ve been here 25 years?
A: Well that’s easy because no, it’s still exciting and it’s still a thrill to come to work everyday. More so now than people might realize because of the new facilities. With everything close to being in place, we begin a new era of Florida State baseball. I think the attendance will increase. I know the season tickets will increase. You are talking about an atmosphere for players that will be second to none in college baseball.
Q: When you took over in 1980, did you think Florida State had a chance to become the national power it is today?
A: I’ve always felt that Florida State could accomplish what it has because we’ve got great tradition. We’ve got kids in our state that grow up reading about Florida State baseball when they are in junior high school. We’ve got kids that come in here in the summer as 13 and 14-year olds and see what Florida State baseball is all about through our summer camps. There is no question that the camps have provided us with a lot of talent and opportunities to show these young men what we are all about.
Q: What are your most memorable moments as a head coach?
A: Well, tradition is born in postseason play. Our football program is what it is because of Bobby Bowden No.1, but Coach Bowden will tell you that winning Sugar Bowls and Orange Bowls and Fiesta Bowls and all the bowls that we’ve won to elevate us to the top five year after year is what attracts talent. So us going to the College World Series is what attracts talent. There have been a lot of big moments for me as a coach, but certainly the ultimate is getting on that plane and knowing that we are going to Omaha. I had the pleasure of watching my son play in a College World Series. A moment that will always be etched in my mind is when I became a father in the dugout for about 45 seconds. I said I’m not going to give a sign, I’m just going to watch my son hit and it was the night we were playing LSU and Doug Mientkiewicz was on first. Mike got a base hit up the middle and Doug went to third. Doug pointed at Mike, which is a Seminole tradition that started in the early 80’s when somebody did something for the team. Mike’s job was of course was to stay out of the double play and Doug pointed at him, at which point I became a coach again because we are first and third and one out and neither of them can run.
Q: Which teams were the most fun to coach, the most talented and the biggest over-achievers?
A: Well if you are talking about a club that over-achieved, I think you would have to look at the 1992 team. That was a club that nobody even knew about. Kenny Felder didn’t even start playing until late April. It was a club that lost the first game of a regional and had to win five in a row to advance. It was one of the only times that during the last game of the regional, remember there were no super regionals back then, the score was 15-2 in the fourth inning and I walked in the back and literally got emotional because I said this baby’s over, we are going back. We had been in ’91 with the No. 1 ranked team in the country and lost everybody – Eduardo Perez and Pedro Grifol and that group. 1996 was a year that we were not even mentioned in the top 30. That one was one that will always ring clear to me. That club went to Stanford, remember we weren’t even regional hosts that year and won out there. That team turned out to be a lot better than we thought it would be because of who was on that team, but they were young kids at the time. J.D. Drew and Randy Choate were sophomores and Jeremy Morris was a junior. That was a fun year. The teams that didn’t get there are the ones that are probably as disappointing to me as the exhilaration of those that go there and that’s the ’97 team with Drew, Choate and Morris. That was a really good team, we could probably have used a couple more arms, but they were very good. That was the year we got beat by Auburn when David Ross hit the three-run homer. We came back to get to the finals, but Tim Hudson, who is now one of the best pitchers in the American League, just shut us down. Then I would say the last two years were disappointing. I honestly though those two teams were as good as any that we’ve had here and it’s just unfortunate the way things worked out. There are no excuses. You have to compliment Notre Dame and Texas. That club that Texas beat last year when we had everybody on the field was dadgum good.
Q: How has college baseball changed since you took over as head coach in 1980?
A: In 1980, if I wanted a kid I called him on the phone and I told him that we had x number percentage of a scholarship to offer him and we would love to have him and how does he feel about becoming a Seminole. I would say that 75 percent of the kids would tell you on the phone I’d love to come to Florida State and you sent him a scholarship or maybe went down there to say hello to his mother and daddy and that was it. As the years past, there became recruiting coordinators, there became an emphasis from the administration on baseball because of the great fan support that so many schools in the sun belt regions have. Then in 1983, you saw Florida State build a $900,000 stadium that was state of the art. Two years later you saw Florida, Texas and other places building much bigger and better stadiums. As the years have passed, look what happened to college baseball. Right now, in just Omaha, there have been 38 million attend the College World Series since it first started. It creates 641 jobs in Omaha. Since we went to the championship format, there’s been four million more people show up for the series. That creates 90 more jobs. The College World Series is bigger and better than it ever was. Heck, I can remember in 1980 when there were just a few people in stands for the afternoon session. They used to play four games, but it got so big they reduced it to two games a day and kept people out there longer. In 1980, I didn’t have a chance to change underwear we were gone so fast. We lost at night and played the next day. I would say the emphasis now on college baseball through the recruiting is the biggest change. You have school’s that are breaking even in the sport of baseball and certainly Florida State is one of them.
Q: Dick Howser Stadium is now one of the top facilities in the country. How different is it from the stadium in your first year as head coach?
A: It’s like comparing Doak Campbell when it was an erector set to what it is today. In 1980, we had chicken wire for the backstop and we had wooden poles for our light poles. We had dugouts that were small, but we made up for it by putting the press box on top of the dugouts. We had the wall without the screen in right field. A coach would sit over there in the eighth or ninth inning and just shake because a routine fly ball was going to be a home run. Maybe on a good night you would get three or four thousand. Now a good night is six or seven thousand. It’s a totally different atmosphere. The facilities are what really stand out. In 1980, we had metal lockers at Tully Gym. We would walk over from Tully Gym. Where the parking lot is now we had a second infield that they would use as parking for the football games. Around 1984 it became a beach volleyball court. It’s been such an unbelievable ride for 25 years to watch this place grow to what it is today. From sitting right here and looking at Doak Campbell Stadium and seeing the excitement I’ve had the pleasure of seeing when Coach Bowden won his 339th game.
Q: When you got into coaching, did you think you would be doing it for 25 years at one place?
A: When I first came to Florida State I never dreamed of being the head coach to be honest. I thought Woody (Woodward) would stay here for 20 years and I would be happy as his assistant. That of course goes back 30 years. When I got the job in 1980, it was a dream job, an absolute dream job. It was something I look back on and realize had I not had some outstanding people surrounding me I would have struggled. I had some outstanding coaches that have gone on to great things, like Jim Morris. As I got into the job, it just rekindled my love for this university. There are so many great memories I have of all the sports here at Florida State. Of all the many coaches that have come and gone in the past 30 years, people that have gone on to other things it’s really been following their careers. From former players of mine to people I taught in class.
Q: You rank as one of the winningest coaches in college baseball history and there’s a chance you could be No. 1 before its all said and done. Is that something you even think about?
A: To say that I never think about it would be pretty easy to read between the lines that I’m lying. To say that I’m obsessed with it, no. All I’ve thought about for the last 10 years is keeping Florida State baseball moving upward. That line that you see, if it’s straight across the page you aren’t doing your job. The line has to be moving upwards and that’s what I want from Florida State baseball no matter who is in this position. I think there has been a tremendous amount of excitement in our program as a result of the number of fans that show up year after year. Now, with the new facility close to being in place you’ll see even more. The attendance this year will be even more than it was last year.
Q: You are a big football fan as well. What are some of your favorite moments?
A: There are two easy ones. I was in the endzone when Lane Fenner caught the ball and I was literally on top of it. When he caught the ball I turned to my wife and I said, “Carol they are going to be talking about this for a long time.” The other is the Florida game that we won 31-31. That one was one that I sat there and when we were behind by 28, I was just saying we are in big trouble and then when we scored I honestly felt like we could get this done. I’ve been in that stadium many, many, many times since 1964. I remember sitting in the row in front of the band the first year we beat Florida. But I’ve never heard a roar like I heard in all my years when we scored that tying touchdown against Florida.
Q: A lot of people may have heard the Deion Sanders story at the Metro Tournament already, but will you tell us again?
A: It was 1987, we were at South Carolina and Dick Roberts had come to me and said Deion can help us win the 440 relay. Will you allow him to come over one afternoon and practice the handoff and run with Sammie Smith and those guys. I said, “Dick we may not even be playing then. The baseball tournament starts on a Wednesday or Thursday and that was going to be on a Saturday. So sure enough we played the afternoon game on Saturday and it just so happened that the relay was scheduled right between games. The players gathered around Deion and he took off his baseball uniform and put on those track shorts right in the dugout. He goes over to the track. I left the baseball field and rode over in a golf cart and asked somebody where he was going to get it. I sat there and watched. I don’t think I’ve ever been as thrilled watching athletes run like I was that day. They were flying and won the relay. Deion went back over, put his uniform back on in the dugout and we won the Metro Conference Tournament Championship that night. I remember Dick thanking me and saying he’d see me at the ball game that night. The track team came over to the game and was just going nuts yelling for us. They really helped pull us through.