WATCH: Mike Martin discusses Florida State’s 4-1 loss to Texas Tech in the College World Series
OMAHA, Neb. – He’d already done his post-game TV interview and been thanked and honored by the public address announcer at TD Ameritrade Park.
And after lingering on the field for several minutes, sharing embraces and shaking hands, there finally came a point where it was time for Mike Martin to leave.
So he stepped down into Florida State’s dugout, started to gather his things and prepared to attend the press conference in which he would discuss the Seminoles’ 4-1 loss to Texas Tech that brought the end of FSU’s season and an end to Martin’s legendary career.
That’s when the chant started.
First it was just the few dozen Florida State fans gathered in the rows above. Then others, some of them fans of other schools, some of them Omaha locals just enjoying the game, noticed what was happening and joined in.
“Ele-ven,” they cheered, making their way down the stadium steps and toward the front row.
Number 11 then took a breath, put down his briefcase and stepped up and out on to the field one more time.
— Joe Healy (@Joe_On_Sports) June 20, 2019
“Thank y’all,” he told them. “Thank y’all so much. Thank you so much for being here. Love y’all.”
And with that, Martin tipped his cap then made his way out of sight.
A few moments later, surrounded by reporters, Martin stated the obvious:
Yes, leaving Omaha without a national title is tough. Both for him and for his players.
“What they accomplished is close to unbelievable, but yet they’re disappointed, as we all are, with the outcome,” Martin said. “But what’s the outcome? We finished fifth or sixth in the College World Series? Our season ended in Omaha. There are a whole lot of folks that wish their season ended in Omaha.”
Given everything from the last few weeks – the Seminoles’ improbable NCAA tournament run though both Athens and Baton Rouge, then their dramatic win over Arkansas just a few days ago, and all of it during Martin’s final year – it was easy to feel like Martin’s last FSU team was a team of destiny.
That this group, the one that was among the last four teams to even make the NCAA tournament, would somehow, some way, be the one that delivered Martin his first national title.
It’s a thought that had permeated the entire week here in Omaha, and many, Martin included, couldn’t help but let themselves believe.
“You know, I did,” Martin said. “And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Because that’s what I coach for – is to get our guys to Omaha and see them just to have the joy that is unimaginable.”
And yet, with one swinging strike three in the bottom of the ninth inning – and with FSU’s best hitter waiting in the on-deck circle – that dream stayed just that. A dream.
Martin’s “One Last Run,” in the works ever since he announced his retirement a year ago, finished three runs short.
Even on a night that quickly turned its focus to Martin’s overall career and achievements, that fact was tough to reckon with in the wake of the last out.
“Just know that I can fake a smile with the best of them,” Martin joked in his press conference. “And I’ll get through this, the rest of this night, with a smile.”
The same couldn’t always be said for Martin’s players, many of whom fought back tears during Martin’s final post-game speech in the locker room.
Dozens, maybe hundreds of times over the last 12 months, those players had been asked about Martin’s pending retirement. About what it meant to be on his last team, what it meant to send him to Omaha one last time and, lately, what it would have meant to win the national title.
Once the final out was recorded, though, those players talked less about the goals they had in mind for him and instead spoke just about the man himself.
“It was an honor to play in this uniform for him,” senior shortstop Mike Salvatore said.
“Just to be with him,” junior third baseman Drew Mendoza said, “day in and day out, and just know the kind of person he is, and to grow as a man with him at the helm, it’s been everything I could have dreamed of.”
— FSU Baseball (@FSUBaseball) June 20, 2019
In a packed press conference room and with his family watching from the front row, Martin fielded dozens of questions at the NCAA podium, about the game, about his career and about his future plans.
For the record, both he and wife Carol have a jam-packed vacation itinerary that’s set to begin soon.
When the questions started to dry up after maybe 25 minutes, moderator Bill Cousins looked up and said, “I hate to think this is going to be the end of it.”
In that instance, Cousins was referring specifically to Martin’s press conference. But he just as easily could have been speaking for fans of Florida State and college baseball, and their feelings toward the sport’s all-time “winningest coach.”
A Florida State alum who played at his alma mater in the 1960s, served as an assistant coach in the 1970s, and who was appointed to the top job on November 30, 1979, Martin over the course of 40 seasons as head coach would become an icon.
His career achievements are virtually common knowledge in the Florida State community, but here’s a refresher anyway:
Those, and dozens more, had Martin’s coaching peers here in Omaha in awe.
“It’s unfathomable,” Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “It really is. I guess I was 10 years old when he started.
“You think of all those good teams he’s had. You think of Buster Posey, J.D. Drew, obviously you think of the day Marshall McDougall hit (six) home runs. You think of all those times coming to Omaha. You think what he’s done for the state of college baseball. It’s not all about Florida State. He wanted to leave the game better than when he found it. He’s definitely done that.”
When it was all over, and it really was time to go, Martin put his arm around Carol and the two walked together toward the exit doors that lead to 13thStreet in downtown Omaha.
A van was waiting to take the Martins back to the team hotel, but before they could get in, a small group of fans gathered around for one last moment with college baseball’s winningest coach.
One asked Martin to autograph a baseball previously signed by Texas’ Augie Garrido – whose wins record Martin broke last year.
Another, wearing a Mississippi State shirt, told Martin that he’d flown to Omaha from his home in Connecticut so that he could see Martin coach in person.
Another admitted to being an LSU fan and rooting against his home team in last week’s Super Regional so that Martin could finish his career in Omaha.
And a man with tears in his eyes told Martin that he was 36 years old and, before flying to Omaha this week, had never been on an airplane in his life.
“But,” he said, putting his arm around Martin, “I would not have missed this for the world.”
“Your career,” the man went on to say, “has meant the world to my family.”
Martin then turned his attention to the man’s young son, baseball in hand, and asked, as he has to countless kids over the last 40 years, “All right, what position do you play?”
“Shortstop,” the boy answered.
“Attaboy,” Martin said with a smile. “A lot of money in shortstop.”
Mike Martin walks out of TD Ameritrade and is greeted by fans outside. One said he’d never been on a plane in his life, but had to be here for this. pic.twitter.com/SOljRdcGUU
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) June 20, 2019
Had an FSU official not stepped in, Martin might have stayed all night. He might have wanted to.
But after a few more handshakes and well wishes, Martin ducked into the van and, with Carol by his side, finally drove away.