TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For a brief second late Sunday night, it looked like Mike Martin might not say it. That maybe he had forgotten.
No one would have blamed him if he had. Martin was in the 23rd minute of a press conference that followed a game that, due to a seven-and-a-half-hour weather delay, was nearly 12 hours in the making.
But after thanking Florida State’s support staff and tournament coordinators and media relations department and even the media members themselves, Martin paused, smiled and after a quick “By the way,” said the words the he loves to say the most:
“We’re going to Omaha, baby!”
Yes, they are, by virtue of a 19-0 victory over Sam Houston State in Game 2 of the NCAA Tallahassee Super Regional – a game that lacked for drama across each individual inning but, received in the sum of its parts, was the most important and likely most cathartic of any during the last five years.
It was plain to see as the Seminoles poured out of their dugout once the final out had been recorded, with chants of “O-ma-ha” raining down and a mob of garnet and gold gathered at the pitcher’s mound.
It was on the face of FSU assistants Mike Martin Jr. and Mike Bell, who wore ear-to-ear grins as they hugged family members rushing onto the field.
And it was in the voice of Martin, who, after a brief, private moment with FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher in a hallway outside the team’s clubhouse, entered the locker room to address the players who had clinched the program’s first trip to the College World Series since 2012.
The longtime coach played it cool at first, saying, “Well, I’m not emotional.”
A moment later, Martin yelled, as loud as he could muster, “We’re going back!” before slamming both arms on a table in the middle of the room.
The Seminoles then let out a roar worthy of a game-winning grand slam.
“It’s special,” senior Quincy Nieporte would later say. “When you talk to a lot of guys that come to Florida State, in their first interview, they’re asked ‘Why did you come here?’ I think it’s the legacy that Florida State has, and Coach Martin is the head guy there.”
This current group of Seminoles carved their own piece of that legacy this weekend. It’s the 22nd FSU team to make the College World Series and 16th since Martin took his first group there in 1980.
And while all those teams no doubt rode the highs and lows of a long season and have their own war stories to tell, this team’s story — and the road it took to get here — will likely stand up to any of them.
They can tell about how they lost on Opening Day for the first time in 19 years, or how they suffered a 17-run defeat at Virginia Tech in March, or how they had 21 wins against 15 losses at the end of a four-game skid in mid-April.
Or how, entering the last week of the regular season, they were no lock to make the NCAA tournament.
Those are some of the lows this team experienced, and, no, they weren’t especially pleasant at the time. But viewed through the lens of everything that has happened since, those lows only serve to make the highs that followed feel that much higher.
And they were plenty high anyway – a two-game sweep at then-No. 2 Louisville (the third game was rained out) followed by a stunning surge to an ACC tournament championship. A four-wins-in-three-days flurry that erased a loss in their first NCAA regional game and clinched a spot in the Super Regionals. And a rally from a four-run deficit that culminated with their first walk-off win in a Super Regional since 2010.
All that in the last three weeks. The Seminoles are 12-1 during that span, and 24-6 since that fateful stretch in mid-April.
Along the way, they’ve created heroes up and down the roster, from Tyler Holtonand Will Zirzow each throwing complete games in the regional, to Jackson Lueckdelivering four RBIs and the walk-off winner a week later.
“I don’t think I have ever been prouder of a group of guys,” Martin said. “They believe in each other. They trust in each other. They loved each other, they played hard. I can’t teach that.”
As the lopsided final score suggests, several Seminoles took a turn in the spotlight on Sunday.
But it first belonged to Taylor Walls, the junior shortstop who rewarded the soggy fans for their patience by launching the third pitch of the game off the scoreboard in left field for a solo homer that turned out to be all the scoring that FSU would need.
After the game, Walls was asked a question that has been asked often over the last few weeks, and it sounds something like this: Given where this team was earlier this season, could you have ever imagined that this was possible?
Turns out that yes, he could.
“I never doubted it,” Walls said. “Even when we weren’t playing to the best of our potential, I still knew in the back of my mind we were going to Omaha.”
They’ll go there later this week, likely on Wednesday or Thursday, and a few days later they’ll meet the LSU Tigers, who clinched a berth in the CWS with a water-logged win over Mississippi State early Monday morning.
First, though, they’ll experience a moment that Martin has had on his mind for a while now.
It was a little more than a week ago, after FSU lost to Tennessee Tech in its first regional game, that Martin told reporters how he longed to take this group of players to Omaha for the first time.
And how, specifically, he wanted to see the look in their eyes as they got off the plane.
At the time, the sentiment was tinged with disappointment, and the knowledge that the Seminoles faced a steep climb if they were to ever get that plane off the ground.
Late Sunday, with the hint of tears forming in his own eyes, Martin realized that dream would become a reality.
“So many schools start out trying to get there, and Florida State’s going to be there,” Martin said.
They’re going to Omaha, baby.