TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the 37th time, Mike Martin on Friday led the Florida State baseball team into its first preseason at Dick Howser Stadium.After reaching the NCAA Super Regionals a year ago, the Seminoles in 2016 figure to rely on a heavy mix of veterans and newcomers as they look to return to the College World Series for the first time in four years.
Omaha, however, is a long way off.
For now, Martin and the Seminoles are just happy to be back on the diamond.
“I hit the dugout (Friday) and I realized exactly what the day was. It’s just still hard for me to believe that it’s been 42 years that I’ve been involved in this type of atmosphere,” said Martin, who started at FSU as an assistant in 1975.
“It’s just as exciting today as it was in 1980, when I became the head coach. … It’s really a fun time for me because I know it’s a fun time for the players.”
The Seminoles will look a little different this spring.
After three years at second base, senior John Sansone is sliding 90 feet to his right and taking over at third. Sophomore Dylan Busby will move from third to first and JUCO transfer Matt Henderson appears to have taken over at second, while Taylor Walls remains at shortstop.
The Seminoles are also set to break in a new catcher – freshman Cal Raleigh is the frontrunner there – two new outfielders and several new pitchers.
Martin said Sansone is feeling right at home on the hot corner.
“I didn’t know how he would do at third, but I promise you, he looks very good down there,” he said. “Not good. Very good. And I’m a little surprised the way he has adjusted to playing third base.”
Offensively, Martin expects to field one of the fastest lineups of his tenure. He estimated that as many as eight starters are capable of taking extra bases and, as such, he said the Seminoles plan to be aggressive on the base paths.
That speed, of course, starts with junior center fielder, whose quickness Martin once compared to that of Deion Sanders.
DeLuzio slogged through a prolonged slump last year, but said he came out of it as a better player. He’s a natural choice to be FSU’s leadoff hitter this year.
“Last year was a learning experience for me, something I hadn’t really gone through,” DeLuzio said. “…You’re going to face struggles in baseball. You’re going to fail seven out of 10 times in the big leagues, and if you hit .300, you’re going to be a Hall-of-Famer.”
On the mound, Mike Compton (4-4, 3.55 ERA in 2015) is back for his fifth year and looking to lead the Seminoles both with his arm and his experience.
Among his responsibilities will be helping to mentor freshmen like Cole Sands, the Tallahassee native who passed on Major League Baseball – the Chicago Cubs drafted him in the fourth round last summer – to play for his hometown team.
Sands’ fastball reaches the low-to-mid-90s, and Martin said he’ll have “every opportunity” to earn a spot in the weekend rotation.
“He’s pitched very well thus far,” Martin said.
FSU has hovered mostly between No. 15 and No. 20 in the baseball polls, which perhaps isn’t unexpected for a team that lost its top hitter (D.J. Stewart) and top pitcher (Boomer Biegalski) to the MLB draft.
Still, Martin is optimistic for 2016 – even if he expects the team to be a work in progress early in the season.
First pitch is set for Friday, Feb. 19, against Rhode Island.
“This is a club that’s going to be evolving,” Martin said. “It’s not going to be one that the fans are going to look at (and say), ‘Good gosh!’ It’s going to be one that, ‘Hey, I see a lot of potential in this club.’
“But like we all say, potential means you ain’t done it yet.”