April 28, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Few things excite the Florida State baseball program like the annual series match-up with rival Miami, which resumes Friday in Coral Gables.
While the eighth-ranked Seminoles (31-10, 14-7 ACC) have a distinct experience edge against the 14th-ranked Hurricanes (28-13, 15-5), an important core group from FSU coach Mike Martin’s team will be making their debuts at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. Among them are sophomore middle infield combo of sophomore shortstop Justin Gonzalez and second baseman Devon Travis.
Gonzalez and Travis are South Florida natives and hardly strangers to the raucous atmosphere on the Coral Gables campus. Gonzalez played his high school baseball at Miami Columbus. Travis played his prep baseball at Palm Beach Gardens, just up I-95.
Both played in last season’s series in Tallahassee, which the Seminoles won with walk-off hits by Stuart Tapley (Saturday) and Mike McGee (Sunday), providing a little taste of the intensity they can expect this weekend.
“Last year was pretty awesome,” said Travis. “We had two walk-off (wins). I’d say it was definitely a preview of what I’m going to see the next few years.”
Nevertheless, it will be a completely different environment on the road, where the `Canes are always backed by a sellout crowd with the `Noles come to town. All three games will be televised on CSS, with Friday and Saturday’s 7 p.m. games followed by Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale.
“Here I was kind of in my own element, with our own fans and us cheering on our team, they [Miami] were at a disadvantage,” said Gonzalez, who grew up playing with and against a number of current Hurricanes. “I got a couple pinch-hits in that series and I was very nervous.
“I’m excited to be back home and am looking forward to it. … Ever since I signed here I knew I had an opportunity to go back home and play in front of the home fans; not their fans, but my family.”
Travis has memories of not only last season’s series, but the history between the Seminoles and Hurricanes, who will meet for the 263rd time Friday night. Florida State leads the all-time series 138-120-4, but Miami has a narrow 61-60-2 on its home field. The Hurricanes won the ’09 series 2-1 the last time the `Noles came to town.
“When you see Florida State and Miami, no matter how good each team is, it’s always going to be a great series and each team – if they’re not a top-five team – they’re going to be playing like a top-five team,” said Travis.
“We have a mutual hate for each other, but it’s definitely out of mutual respect.”
And there’s little question that both teams are playing their best baseball entering the series. FSU is riding a season-best, seven-game winning streak, which is the fourth longest active stretch in the nation. Miami has won 14 of its last 16 games, climbing out of a 5-8 hole at the start of the season.
“They started slow but you had to figure by the time we got to them they’d be playing at full swing and you’ve got to say they are,” Travis said.
The Seminoles’ distinct experience advantage begins on the mound, where junior Sean Gilmartin – the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Week and Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week – will try and build on his 7-1 record. Gilmartin remembers his first start in Coral Gables, when the `Noles won their only game in the ’09 series, 14-4.
“It was a good experience for me,” Gilmartin said. “I think I went 7 2/3 (innings), or something like that. Our offense came out and put up five runs in the first out. That helped me out a lot.
“I was a little jittery, but I got through it.”
Miami will counter with standout freshman Brad Radziewski (6-2, 3.23), who will likely be backed by a lineup that will include three other freshmen and three sophomores. FSU will likely put a lineup on the field behind Gilmartin which includes a combination of six seniors and juniors. As an added boost, senior Mike McGee will make his first start of the season on the mound in Sunday’s series finale. McGee has a 14-3 career record as a starting pitcher, though his last start came last March in Jacksonville.
“I’m excited about it,” McGee said of his return to the rotation. “I’ve been wondering what it would be like again.”
The wait, for both the Seminoles and Hurricanes, is just about over.