April 22, 2008
By Bill Hass
Greensboro, N.C. – The anticipation is over.
Traditional baseball powers Florida State and Miami meet in a three-game series in Tallahassee this weekend. Not only will it establish, at least for the moment, the best team in the ACC, but the series winner will almost surely be ranked No. 1 in the country.
“It’s a series that we get excited about every year,” said Florida State catcher Buster Posey. “The way that they’ve been playing ball this year and the way we’ve been playing, it should be a good match-up.
“It’s a really fun series because there’s a lot of history with each program and each one is competing with a strong, strong will to win. This is why guys come to college to play baseball.”
Going into the series, you can take your pick as to which is the better team. The USA Today coaches poll ranks Miami first and Florida State second. Collegiate Baseball puts the Seminoles first and Hurricanes second. Baseball America has Miami first and FSU third.
In the history between the schools, Seminole coach Mike Martin can’t remember a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-up.
“You probably can’t get any more exciting than what we’re having this weekend,” Martin said. “You’ve got two teams that are trying to win a league championship and it’s going to be a challenging weekend for all of us.”
When they were in different conferences, the schools played six games a year, each hosting a three-game series. Since Miami joined the ACC, they play one three-game set, alternating the home site each season.
“It’s a situation where there’s a lot at stake but it’s still a baseball game,” Martin said. “We can’t put too much emphasis on it because we have so many tough games left to play. We haven’t played Carolina or Clemson or NC State, and you’re talking about very tough games.”
There’s always the possibility the teams will met in the ACC Championship in Jacksonville next month.
At any rate, this series is what’s happening now. And Posey may have a lot to do with how it turns out.
The junior from Leesburg, Ga., is a big reason the Seminoles are 33-3 overall and 17-1 in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. He’s hitting a robust .482 with 10 home runs, 16 doubles, three triples, 42 RBIs and 48 runs scored. He also has pitched in five games, recording four saves.
“Buster is a very intelligent baseball player and an intelligent person,” Martin said. “He leads our team every year in grade point average. He’s a student of the game and the unquestioned leader of our ball club. He’s a guy that loves to compete and is never afraid to assume a role of a leader.”
Posey came to Florida State as a shortstop and made an immediate impact, starting every game as a freshman and hitting .346 with 48 RBIs. In the fall of 2006, the practice season for college baseball teams, assistant coaches Jamey Shouppe and Mike Martin, Jr. approached Martin with what seemed like a radical idea.
“They came to me and asked if Buster Posey could be looked at as a catcher,” Martin said, “and I looked at them like they were crazy. I can honestly say after I saw him take three pitches, I knew he could catch. Mike took it upon himself to teach him and Buster has turned himself into one of the top catchers in the country, if not the top catcher in the country.”
Martin said Posey is a great athlete with a strong arm, a feel for the game and the ultimate team player who willingly made the switch.
“I went into it with an open mind and I think that’s the only way I could have approached it for it to work out like it did,” Posey said. “It was a pretty good fit; it translated well to my skills. It took a lot of hard work with Mike Martin, Jr. and I’m still enjoying learning the new position and all the ins and outs about it.”
As a sophomore, as Posey learned those ins and outs, he hit .382 with 65 RBIs and viewed the game from a different perspective.
“You’ve got everything in front of you,” he said. “Playing the infield, you’re used to having your pitcher in front of you and the hitter and you can see the crowd behind the hitter. Now you’ve got your team in front of you and you’re involved in each play. That’s something I’ve enjoyed tremendously about the position.”
There were a lot of nuances to learn. Like blocking low or bouncing pitches by letting the ball travel to him and using his chest protector. And understanding that pop-ups behind the plate have more backspin so it’s easier to let the ball come to him instead of over-running it. And dealing with the inevitable nicks, bumps and bruises that catchers pick up.
Playing the position full-time last summer in the Cape Cod League helped Posey hone those skills.
Martin said Posey handles Florida State’s pitchers well. Although most of the signals come from the dugout, Posey is still involved in the decisions. Having pitched much of his baseball career, he understands that aspect of the game.
“The most important thing for pitchers to know is I’m back there working for them and we’re both trying to get the same thing done,” Posey said. “I’ve got a lot of trust in them and they’ve got a lot of trust in me.”
As for his hitting, Martin said it’s a product of Posey seeing the ball well and getting good swings.
“I’m just trying to keep a pretty simple approach – going out and having fun, competing with the guys on our team and trying to get a `W’ each time out,” Posey said. “I’m not somebody that harps on stats too much, but I’ve felt good at the plate for the past two or three weeks. The main thing is staying within myself and trying to let the game come to me.”
Posey believes his long-term baseball future now lies at catcher. Martin agrees with that assessment.
“I don’t think there’s any question that he’s a guy who’s going to be a great addition to any major league organization (as a catcher),” Martin said.
Right now, Posey’s thoughts are keeping the Seminoles on their current track and even getting better.
“I’d like to see us improve some more defensively,” he said. “We’ve had some guys who have made some big improvement thus far, but we still could get better as a team defensively. That’s where the good teams win their ball games.
“That’s the great thing about this game, there’s always room for improvement – hitting, fielding, getting that one pitch for your pitcher that can be the difference in the game.”
Spoken like a true leader, which is no surprise to Martin.
“He’s one of the finest team players I’ve ever coached,” Martin said. “Buster is only concerned about the team. He is a special young man, a special person, and we’re very fortunate to have him in our program.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing “Bill Hass on the ACC” for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.