Mike Martin is as familiar a sight to Florida State baseball as is winning itself. Since taking over as head coach in 1980, Martin has added more than 1,700 wins to a program that has accrued a .730 winning percentage since its founding in 1948. Each of FSU's eight baseball coaches has delivered a winning record, and the Seminoles have tallied a winning mark against every conference foe they've faced.
He recently shared with Eastbay Team some thoughts on the evolution of the game, as well as how he's tried to maintain that stunning level of success.
"We've had a consistent staff," he said. "Most of my guys have been with me over 20 years." It's the people behind the scenes; trainers, sports information, fans that make our program what it is. I'm just a part of it."
As a Seminole himself (class of 1966), Martin played on FSU's 1965 College World Series team. After a few years playing minor league ball, he transitioned into coaching as an assistant under FSU head coach Woody Woodward in 1975, then for Dick Howser's lone season at FSU's helm in 1979 before taking on the head role in 1980.
"We went from drawing 1,000 to 1,500 a game in 1980," Martin said. "To 4,500 a game today, It's a social event. And then there's "The Animals (of Section B," a fan group storied to lead the crowd in the singing of "O Canada" before the home half of the fifth inning as a superstitious carryover from a victory in 1988). There's no group like The Animals. They're the ones that keep our team enthusiastic; keep them motivated."
While fan support may be a mainstay in Tallahassee, the nature of college baseball itself has evolved, according to Martin. He noted that the development of fall leagues has given scouts more avenues to check out the next generation of baseball stars.
"It's fun for me to watch baseball improve," he said. "In 1980, we had maybe one guy who threw 90-91 (mph). Now this year we have six guys who can throw over 90. If you can't throw 87-88, it's very difficult for you to pitch on the college level."
The increasing number of eyes on his, and other, college players can challenge their focus. But that underscores the type of players Martin says makes FSU tick. He related a story about Buster Posey's performance in the 2008 CWS.
"We're down 4," he said. "The count goes to 2-0. He is given the green light. The ball is on the outside corner. He takes it for strike 1. The count ends up going to 3-2. Bases loaded, 2 outs, the pitcher throws the ball; two balls off the plate, and Buster takes it for ball 4. That's leadership. That's teamwork. That is a team at work. I'll never forget that because he wasn't thinking about Buster Posey. He was thinking about Florida State."
Martin's 16 conference championships have netted him seven Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year awards. The program has yet to win a national championship, which likely has contributed to Martin's mature approach to the game.
"You've got to have more patience, boy," Martin said when asked what he would go back in time to tell a younger version of himself. "I was a little more boisterous back then. Now I try to be more understanding of what a young man has to go through to be successful in college baseball. Their education is the top priority. Second can be baseball.
"When you have 3 out of a 100 who sign a pro contract ever make it to the big leagues, it seems like I should do my job and preach education first. And that's what I've tried to do since 1980."
As testament to this, Florida State boasts a graduation rate near 90% for its baseball players. And the program has had some notable names pass through, including major league stars such as Posey, brothers J.D. and Stephen Drew, and two-sport phenoms Deion Sanders and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
"He's one of the finest young men I've ever met, and I'm very proud that he's a Florida State baseball player," Martin said of Winston. "He went through spring football. He needed to be there. We happen to have a young man that can play the outfield, he can pitch, he's a switch hitter, he can run, and now he is a Heisman Trophy winner. But he will tell you that come January, he wants to play baseball. Coach (Jimbo) Fisher will say, 'Fine, work that out. If you're making a contribution to baseball, you can play it the entire spring. If you're not making a contribution to baseball, then you're better off being over here with me.' That's the kind of understanding that we have. We're excited that we have support in that area."
Martin likes seeing young athletes play multiple sports, acknowledging that it can be easier on them if the sports' seasons don't overlap.
Seminole Drill – Load the bases with no outs and a coach on mound. The ball is put into play, and everybody must know what to do. Everybody on the bases must know how to react, and each hitter and baserunner has to know what the guy ahead of him is doing. From that, we can go from second to third, one out, infield in or back. You can put your team in so many different situations by just letting the inning complete itself. All of that can be taught in one drill.
Tee Drill –Hitters hit off a tee, and infielders can be positioned at different spots, where they're supposed to be double-play depth, play-at-plate depth pitchers can take balls off the bat. Everytime batters put a ball in the air, they lose a swing (line drives don't count). We're working on going the other way the entire eight swings. It's amazing how guys flatten that bat out and take the correct swings. That's what we're trying to do is produce habits.