BATON ROUGE, La. – The visiting team’s locker room at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium isn’t much of a locker room at all. In fact, it’s a weight room retrofitted with places for players and coaches to sit and get dressed before heading into the dugout.
This isn’t unusual. It’s fairly standard at college baseball stadiums across the country, but, on Sunday night, it created a small problem for Mike Martin and the Florida State Seminoles.
Because after clinching a Super Regional title with a 5-4, 12-inning victory over LSU, a win that clinched Florida State’s 23rd trip to the College World Series, the Seminoles didn’t have anywhere to go.
Nowhere that would serve the moment, anyway.
So, Martin and the Seminoles stayed right where they were – on the field named after legendary former LSU coach Skip Bertman.
What followed was spontaneous and unbridled celebration between Martin, his family, his players and their fans, one that was unlike any that Martin had ever seen.
Which is tough to do for a 75-year-old man in his 40th year of coaching.
“This night,” Martin said, “will be etched in stone with me for the rest of my life.”
And it was a night made up of maybe a dozen different moments, any one of which might have brought a smile to even the most cynical of sports fans.
There was Martin, following his team out of the dugout to celebrate as Mike Salvatore slid across home plate for the winning run.
Waiting to greet him in the chaos was his son, Mike Martin Jr., who had wrapped his arms around his dad so tightly that both briefly lost their balance.
Martin Jr. played for his father from 1993-95, then joined Florida State’s staff in 1998. He’s been in the dugout with dad ever since, and the two will make their 10th trip to Omaha, Neb., this week.
From there, another hug, this one with Brandon Stone, the team’s trainer since 2014. Stone, a big man who towers over Martin in physical stature, graduated from FSU in 2010 and returned to work as an intern in 2013 before finding a home with Martin’s bunch.
“I thought our trainer had broken five of my ribs,” Martin said with a laugh. “He absolutely gave me one of those bearhugs, and I said, ‘I’ve been trying to hide this boney chest for so long, just let it go.’
“He hugged me, and I’m saying, ‘This is what it’s all about. … He’s been a great trainer. He’s taken care of our young men above and beyond.”
Then, as players hugged and hollered around him, Martin scanned the stands at Alex Box Stadium in search of Carol, his wife of more than 50 years.
In his postgame press conference, Martin joked that Carol has “put up with” him for all that time, staying up late waiting for him to get home from games as a young couple and then just heading to bed as the years went by.
But, as she blew kiss after kiss in her husband’s direction, it was obvious that Carol Martin didn’t mind all those late nights.
“This is a dream come true,” she’d later say, after making her way to the field.
“It’s just a relationship in which you look at yourself and you thank God that this is the woman that chose you,” Martin added. “And listened when you said, ‘Let’s get married.’”
Two years ago, when Florida State clinched its spot in the 2017 College World Series, a clip of Martin in the post-game locker room went viral among FSU fans.
In it, Martin is front and center, his players gathered around, and he speaks softly before exclaiming, as loud as he could, “We’re going back!”
But without a full-fledged locker room in Baton Rouge, Martin and the Seminoles had to improvise if they were to replicate the moment.
Safe to say they found a way.
I HAVE AN URGENT MESSAGE FOR ALL OF NOLE NATION!
WE’RE GOIN BACK! pic.twitter.com/myDOskRhri
— FSUBaseballEquipment (@FSUBaseballEQ) June 10, 2019
And, in an unintended perk to the on-field revelry, the fans in attendance got to join in, too.
Alex Box Stadium is among the sport’s most revered venues, and, with a capacity of around 12,000, FSU supporters in Baton Rouge were always going to be heavily outnumbered.
But the few hundred clad in garnet and gold rallied together, cheered together and, in the fifth inning sang, ‘O Canada’ together.
They tried, anyway.
LSU fans complained to the stadium staff about O, Canada, and we just got a very angry warning accordingly. pic.twitter.com/Ipkchb7wiE
— Brucifer H. Brisket (@nolanolegal) June 9, 2019
Florida State fans who made the trip to Baton Rouge won’t likely forget their weekend any time soon.
And they certainly won’t forget Martin making his way over after the game for one more salute:
Mike Martin’s four favorite words … pic.twitter.com/0XBCotGdnQ
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) June 10, 2019
One of those fans, Martin noticed, was a friendly face from the not so distant past.
Scott Sitz, a Florida State pitcher from 2010-13, and who pitched in the 2012 College World Series, made the nine-hour drive from his home in Jacksonville to be in Baton Rouge.
“He’s sitting there talking to his wife a couple of days ago and said, ‘Let’s go to Baton Rouge,’” Martin said. “They jumped in the car, drove over here, saw the game. Why? Because he’s a Seminole. And it really means a lot to us, as coaches, when those young men show up this far away from home, just to be with the team in which they were a part of.”
NCAA protocol says that losing teams hold their press conferences first, so while LSU was busy discussing the end of its season, Martin had time to linger on the field a while longer
He posed for pictures with a few young fans and caught a couple baseballs from the stands that he autographed and threw back. LSU staffers approached to shake his hand, and even a stadium crew member cleaning out FSU’s dugout offered a friendly word.
Right before Martin disappeared beneath the stadium, one more voice called out:
“Coach Martin,” a man decked in LSU’s purple and yellow said, “Thank you.”
This guy might have been the last LSU fan in the stadium. He waited five minutes and then said, “Coach Martin … Thank you.” pic.twitter.com/XKpBvf34Dn
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) June 10, 2019
Martin looked up and smiled, and the man told him that he’d been attending LSU baseball games since the 1960s – back when the crowds were a far cry from the thousands that the Tigers draw these days.
“Back with Jack Lamabe,” Martin answered with a smile.
Exactly. Lamabe coached the Tigers back in 1983, the last time Martin and the Seminoles played in Baton Rouge.
The man then told Martin that he’d been a passionate college baseball fan for all those years and that, in his eyes, men like Martin, LSU’s Bertman and former Texas legend Augie Garrido were icons.
The reasons that there will be 25,000 fans filling Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park later this week.
Bertman, 81, retired in 2001 (he later served as LSU’s athletics director from 2001-08) and Garrido died last year at the age of 79.
So, as he looked at Martin, who of course is set to retire at the end of this season, the LSU fan could only say, one more time, “Thanks.”
Martin responded in kind:
“Thank you,” he said, “for the kind words.”
FWIW – after 12 innings & a Walk Off Win, on the field post game, interview session, @FSUBaseball #11 signed autographs & posed for photos for every FSU & @LSUbaseball fan left at Alex Box Stadium -The most incredible experience I have ever been a part of in 35 Yrs as a Seminole!
— Chip Baker 3️⃣ (@TheBigShooter3) June 10, 2019
For the last 12 months, since he announced that he’d be retiring after the 2019 season, Martin has been uneasy with the spotlight that he’s attracted.
He’s fielded hundreds of questions about his final season and, more often than not, has preferred to shift the focus to his players.
He did so again on Sunday, despite a roomful of reporters’ best efforts to get Martin to talk about himself.
So, instead, the players that surrounded Martin at FSU’s press conference did it for him.
Asked about the significance of Martin’s career ending in Omaha, and being part of the team that made sure it happens that way, Mendoza said, “It’s exactly what he deserves.”
He deserves that, same as he deserved this night in Baton Rouge. A night that, yes, was about Martin’s players and their program, but that in so many moments pointed back to the man at the center of it all.