OMAHA, Neb. – Mike Martin wore a broad grin as he stepped off the Florida State team bus for practice at Creighton University on Sunday afternoon.
By then, it had been a little more than 15 hours since Martin’s Seminoles beat Arkansas, 1-0, in their first game at the College World Series.
And although FSU still has a long road ahead at the CWS, the Seminoles also have a full day off before they play Michigan on Monday night (7 p.m., ESPN).
So Martin had at least a little time to savor the win, FSU’s first in a CWS opener since 1999.
“I’m a real nice guy when we’re 1-0 in Omaha,” Martin said with a laugh. “Because it’s been 20 years, baby.”
The Seminoles on Monday will attempt to follow one history-making turn with another. A win over the Wolverines would give them their first 2-0 start at the College World Series since 1989 – a full decade before most players on FSU’s roster were even born.
Far more important than history, though, is what a 2-0 start might mean for FSU’s future. Beat Michigan, and the Seminoles won’t play again until Friday night. From there, one more win would put FSU into the CWS final, while whoever is left standing on FSU’s side of the bracket would need to beat the Seminoles twice.
If there’s such thing as a “driver’s seat” in the College World Series, this is it. Twenty-four of the last 29 national champions have started 2-0 in Omaha.
“We know that we’ve got to play very well to advance,” Martin said. “We know that this is a game that, if we were to lose, we would still be in it.
“But, certainly, if we can win it, it would put us in a position that, well, it’s been a long time since we’ve been in that position.”
Michigan, however, is unlikely to be impressed with Florida State’s historical perspective.
The Wolverines are in Omaha for the first time since 1984 and, prior to their victory over Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon, hadn’t won a game in the College World Series since 1983. Back then, they had Barry Larkin playing shortstop.
This year’s Michigan team might not have any future Hall-of-Famers on the roster, but its recent resume is still plenty impressive.
Despite a fairly pedestrian No. 39 ranking in the final NCAA RPI, and despite being one of the “last four in” to the NCAA tournament field – sound familiar? – the Wolverines are perhaps the one team in Omaha with a postseason run that could rival FSU’s.
Two weeks ago, Michigan went to the Corvallis, Ore., Regional as a No. 3 seed and outlasted both defending national champion Oregon State and an upstart 2-seed in Creighton.
Then, in a Super Regional matchup against No. 1 overall seed UCLA, the Wolverines became the first team to win a three-game series against the Bruins all season.
UCLA entered the weekend with 52 victories and having won 14 of its previous 15 games.
“I still just marvel at the way they went out to L.A. and got it done,” Martin said.
And in their first game at TD Ameritrade Park, Michigan jumped out to an early lead over No. 5 national seed Texas Tech and never looked back in a 5-3 victory.
“Michigan is a heck of a baseball team,” Martin said. “You don’t do what they’ve done if they’re not a heck of a baseball team.”
For that, Martin gives credit to Michigan coach Erik Bakich, who worked with coaching heavyweights Jack Leggett, Kevin O’Sullivan and Tim Corbin at Clemson, then spent seven years on Corbin’s staff at Vanderbilt.
At 41 years old, Bakich has already been a head coach at two major programs (he spent 2010-12 at Maryland) and has guided three of his Michigan teams to the NCAA tournament.
“They’re a solid fundamental team,” Martin said, noting how impressed he was at the way Michigan manufactured a run in the top of the first inning against Texas Tech on Saturday.
The Wolverines worked a lengthy walk, advanced to second base on a wild pitch, took third after a fly ball to right field and then scored after a ground ball with the infield playing back.
Not all that different from the way FSU put together its one and only run against Arkansas.
“That was designed,” Martin said. “That didn’t just happen.”
And neither did this matchup, despite each team’s “last four in” status.
Asked about the significance of two skin-of-their-teeth tournament teams meeting on this stage in Omaha, Martin just shrugged and chalked it up to the game.
Sometimes, teams go through peaks and valleys before everything clicks. Sometimes, as in UCLA’s case, a team can be great all season only to see things fall apart.
After all, this is a tournament that has seen winners from Coastal Carolina, Fresno State and Rice in the last 16 years. The unexpected tends to come around on a pretty regular basis.
“The only thing that is predictable in the game of baseball,” Martin said, “is the unpredictability.”