OMAHA, Neb. – While the spotlight will be on the players at this week’s College World Series, the road to Omaha is no less demanding – or rewarding – for the coaching staffs of the eight teams here. Florida State’s staff knows that better than most. All four of FSU’s coaches – head coach Mike Martin (1965), assistants Mike MartinJr. and Mike Bell (1994-95)
and volunteer coach Clyde Keller (1989) – first reached Omaha as Florida State players before returning to help guide their alma mater to the CWS as coaches. The Seminoles open their World Series run Saturday night against LSU (8 p.m., ESPN).
“It’s incredible,” said Keller, a pitcher and second baseman (1988-89) who joined the staff in 2015. “You saw (Omaha) as a player and you go through it and you don’t really appreciate it at the time. Then, after the years, you really start to understand how special it was.
“And you get to come back now and all these guys are getting a taste of it. It’s just a really special feeling for them but it’s special for us coaches coming back also.”
Keller went 13-0 as a senior in 1989, and he pitched the Seminoles past Wichita State in their second game of the College World Series.
The Shockers came into the contest with a gaudy .327 team batting average and an offense that posted 10.2 runs per game, but Keller held them to just four hits and one earned run on his way to a complete game.
“Clyde had the most devastating palm ball,” Martin said. “It rarely is thrown today, but it was downright filthy.”
Having won their first two games of the tournament, Keller said the Seminoles thought they “had everything figured out.”
But in the next breath, Keller noted that momentum in Omaha can change in a hurry. It did. The Seminoles then lost two straight games to Wichita State, which went on to win the national title.
That result, however, hasn’t diminished Keller’s memories of the College World Series.
“The fans make the tournament,” he said. “You walk off the bus and you’re treated like a superstar, whether you’ve played every inning of the season or not at all. And that’s what I think is really special about Omaha – everybody is somebody here.”
A few years later, the pitcher-catcher duo of Bell and Martin Jr. were part of a core group of Seminoles that combined to win more than 100 games and made back-to-back trips to Omaha in 1994 and 95.
Martin Jr., FSU’s starting catcher from 1993-95, appeared in six CWS games. He notched four hits in Omaha, with a double, one RBI, two runs scored and three walks.
Bell, meanwhile, allowed only a single hit in 1 2/3 innings at the 1994 College World Series.
“The first few innings I remember being a little rough,” Martin Jr. said. “The emotions are going, the adrenaline’s going. But once you calm down, eliminate the fans and all the outside stuff, then you’re playing baseball. I had a lot of great memories.”
More than 20 years removed from their playing careers, Martin Jr. and Bell each have vivid memories of their first visits to Omaha.
Martin Jr. recalled waiting to take the field in a hallway near the locker room at Rosenblatt Stadium when it started to rain.
Water started seeping through the venerable stadium’s ceiling and, with nowhere else to go, the Seminoles could do nothing other than get wet.
So, yes, the modern amenities at TD Ameritrade Park, which opened in 2011, were a welcome sight.
“It’s definitely different,” Martin Jr. said. “It’s different for the good. … Now we’ve got auxiliary clubhouses. It’s like a major-league stadium.”
Bell remembered the team’s first batting practice session at Rosenblatt, which took place during the middle rounds of the MLB draft.
Nowadays, fans and players can get up-to-the-minute draft updates on their phones or computers. But the Seminoles didn’t have smartphones in 1994.
“Our sports information director would tell Coach Martin,” Bell said. “Then Coach Martin would come and pull you aside and tell you, ‘Congratulations, you just got drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 20th round.’”
The tournament has gone through changes in venue, changes in format and changes in feel over the last several years. But, for Florida State, the goal is the same as it ever was.
The Seminoles want to win a national championship.
That’s why Martin Jr. joined his father’s staff in 1998 after a three-year run in the minor leagues.
It’s why Bell left his post as the pitching coach at the University of Oklahoma to come back to Tallahassee.
And it’s why Keller set aside his duties at a youth baseball academy in Tampa to rejoin his former coach and mentor.
“It would mean everything,” Keller said. “I’m a volunteer coach and that’s why I came back – to see if I could help. I’m not getting paid, no perks or anything like that. I’m here because I want to be.
“I hope we can get it done this time.”