June 9, 2005
Tallahassee, FL – The Florida State/Florida rivalry is a tradition filled as any in the nation but when it comes to baseball, does the same intensity exist? The Seminole and Gator baseball teams have not met in the postseason since 1996. Many of FSU’s players weren’t even teenagers the last time the two teams met in a game this big. On top of that, the two sides don’t even play weekend series any more instead playing a three-game set spread out through the season on week nights. So when the teams meet Friday night in an NCAA Super Regional will it be as intense as the games their fellow athletes play at Doak Campbell or Ben Hill Griffin?
“With football you have eight-five guys on the team and I don’t know how many of them know each other,” said senior catcher Aaron Cheesman. “With baseball we pretty much know everyone on their team. You pretty much know the whole order through college or through high school. It just makes it that more intense because you don’t want your friends going out there and beating you. You always want to get after them. They are going to come right out and hit us in the mouth. Both ways it is going to be a lot of intensity and a lot of fun.”
“In any sport it is a bitter rivalry and this is just going to make it even bigger because the winner gets the big prize,” said FSU’s Friday night starter Bryan Henry. “When we put the cleats on in August when we all first got here that was the goal, we wanted to go to Omaha. Now we have to go through Florida to get there and it does not get any better then that.”
But if you think everyone in Garnet and Gold views the rivalry between the two baseball teams the same way, you’d be mistaken. Florida State Head Coach Mike Martin knows how bitter the rivalry is between the two schools but he also doesn’t think that the rivalry is the same in baseball as it is in football.
“I’m 64 and I’m an ex-Carolina boy,” said Martin. “This is my home 41 years and from the time they (the Gators) walked into Doak Campbell in 1964 with `Never FSU Never’ on their backs there has been a special feeling about this rivalry.
“It is different in baseball though. There is no question it is different in baseball. When you play a three game series you don’t have the same feeling when it comes to football and baseball. Baseball is just different. (UF Head Coach) Pat McMahon is a personal friend of mine and a great coach and I enjoy the University of Florida players. They are fine young men. It is just different.”
You won’t get an argument from Gainesville native and P.K. Yonge standout Ryne Malone. If there ever was a player who would know the bitterness of this rivalry it would be a hometown kid who left to go to the rival school up north. But Malone hasn’t seen any evidence of that.
“Playing in Gainesville has been nothing but fun,” said Malone. “The fans are always respectful and as a team we have a lot of respect for the ball club at Florida. It is just a good experience, it is fun.”
When it comes down to it, no matter how the individuals involved in the game view the state of the FSU/UF baseball rivalry, there is one constant and that is respect. With 13 combined trips to the World Series in the last 17 years, the players on both sides know that the guys in the other dugout are due that.
“I know for me I respect all of our rivals Florida, Miami and Clemson all of those big rivals,” said Cheesman. “I respect the players on their team a lot. They have worked just as hard as we have to get to this point and I don’t know what else you really can say. There is just a lot of respect on both sides. They are going to want to beat us just as bad as we want to beat them.”
Despite the familiarity with the players, the coaches and the teams in general, there is one factor neither team can be prepared for and that will be the environment at a sold out McKethan Stadium Friday night. There hasn’t been a baseball game between the two schools this important played in the state of Florida in almost 20 years. The last time the teams played in an NCAA Tournament game in the Sunshine State was 1988.
“I can’t even imagine what it is going to be like,” said Henry. “We played them on a week day earlier and it was awesome and I wasn’t even playing. I can’t even imagine. It is going to be unbelievable. I can’t wait”
“Oh it will be electric, like it was here except it will be for the other team,” said Martin. “The University of Florida has great baseball tradition. Pat (McMahon) has done a tremendous job down there. We know that it is going to be a very difficult challenge. It does not getting any better than Florida-Florida State for the right to go to Omaha. How much better can it get.”
When the dust settles Monday one of the two Florida schools will be representing their state in the College World Series. The other might be rethinking their views on the state of the Florida State/Florida baseball rivalry.