WATCH: First game often crucial to NCAA Regional success.
ATHENS, Ga. – Mike Martin has been aware of the reality since he announced his retirement plans last year.
At some point, the 2019 Florida State baseball season will end and bring about the close of Martin’s legendary career.
Still, it’s hard for that reality to not feel a little more, well, real this time of year.
The NCAA tournament begins Friday, and, over the next few weeks, 64 teams will be whittled down to the eight that make it to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Those that don’t reach college baseball’s biggest stage will turn their focus to next year. And Florida State is going to have a new head coach in 2020.
“I know this is the so-called ‘end of the line,’” Martin said. “I just want to extend it as long as we can.”
That quest begins Friday at noon when Florida State, seeded third in the NCAA Athens, Ga., Regional, meets No. 2-seed Florida Atlantic at Georgia’s Foley Field.
The host Bulldogs and No. 4 Mercer will play at 7 p.m.
The weekend will follow the familiar double-elimination, “winner’s bracket” formula. Which makes winning the first game crucial to the Seminoles’ hopes of advancing to next week’s Super Regional.
“There’s no doubt it’s a very important game,” Martin said. “I don’t care what you say – ‘Well, you’re not out of the tournament (if you lose the first game).’
“Well, you’re not out of the tournament, but you’re behind the eight-ball.”
The Seminoles know how that feels, having lost their regional opener in each of the last two years.
In 2017, they were able to rally, and, after a nervy few days, beat Auburn in dramatic fashion and eventually finish their season in Omaha.
A year later, though, one loss led to another and FSU’s postseason run was over before it ever got off the ground.
“It’s huge,” junior third baseman Drew Mendoza said of winning the first game. “I’ve never done it in my career. …Obviously that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The change in scenery might help.
No one on Florida State’s roster has played an NCAA Regional away from home – FSU as a program hasn’t done it since 2010 – and although their approach is mostly the same, the next few days will at least have a different feel than what they’re used to.
Besides, with Athens a reasonable drive from Tallahassee and a short distance from FSU’s large alumni base in Atlanta, the Seminoles hope to have plenty of support in the stands.
“It’s going to be different,” Mendoza said. “And I think we’re excited.”
Regardless, the Seminoles don’t believe they’ll be phased by any postseason pressure.
Not after spending the last month on the tournament “bubble.”
Florida State went into last week’s ACC tournament game against North Carolina State with the feeling that it was essentially a play-in game for a regional.
And seeing themselves among the “last four in” in ESPN’s tournament selection all but confirmed that theory.
FSU’s 11-0 win over the Wolfpack might have been the difference between being here in Athens and being home.
“That’s kind of how our last 10 games have been,” senior shortstop Mike Salvatore said. “We’ve been playing them as ‘Regional’ games. Every game was a must-win.”
In that sense, the Seminoles will feel right at home over the next few days.
“Postseason baseball is a different animal on its own,” said junior lefthander Drew Parrish, who will start Friday’s game. “We kind of forget about everything that happened up to this point and just focus on one game at a time.”
Every win is one step closer to the College World Series. And one more game for their legendary coach.
The Seminoles are planning to have several of each.
“This is his last run,” Salvatore said. “And we just want to prolong it as much as we can and see where it goes. Hopefully Omaha.”