If this is farewell, then FSU’s Mike Martin has left a legacy to remember

With his team an underdog in his 40th consecutive NCAA regional, the Seminoles baseball coach may begin his retirement by the end of the weekend.
Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin saluting the crowd at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee after getting his 1,900th win in 2017. Martin went on to become the first coach in NCAA history, for any sport, to reach 2,000 victories.(AP Photo/Joe Reedy) RPJR201
Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin saluting the crowd at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee after getting his 1,900th win in 2017. Martin went on to become the first coach in NCAA history, for any sport, to reach 2,000 victories.(AP Photo/Joe Reedy) RPJR201
Published May 30

The tributes have been coming, steady and deserved. Videos and bobbleheads, speeches and tears. All fitting for a man who has won more NCAA games than any coach, in any sport, in history.

But if you’re looking for Mike Martin’s most meaningful legacy, you’ll not find it in the record book, nor on the baseball field that bears his name at Florida State University.

The true wonder of Martin is the man himself.

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Watch FSU as it begins play Friday in an NCAA Regional, and you’ll understand. Martin is a relic, in the best way possible. He is a reminder that narcissism is not a virtue, and winning isn’t always imperative.

And please don’t misconstrue that because few can stand beside Martin, 75, when it comes to victories. He has been the head coach at FSU for 40 years, and the Seminole have made 40 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Not one losing season, not one hint that his impending retirement is necessary.

It’s just that Martin has always been larger than the game, in the sense that he understood priorities better than most. Which is why former players came from all around to be in Tallahassee earlier this month for the final regular season game of the man they affectionally call by his uniform number.

“If one guy came up to me and hugged my neck, the number has to be closer to 50,’’ Martin said in a press conference after the game. “They came up to me, hugged my neck and said, “I love you, 11.’’’

Martin paused for a moment, examined his sunglasses and shuffled a folder in front of him.

“If that was corny, it ain’t corny to me. And I love those guys.’’

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In a way, he is the Cal Ripken of college baseball coaches. The overall numbers are impressive, but the brilliance was in the mundane.

Year after year, recruit after recruit, win after win. The entire world changed around him, and Martin seemed both unaffected and undiminished.

Oh, he kept up with the times. He adapted when needed and overhauled when necessary. But the core remained the same. The values, the humility, the essence never changed.

The drawl is still as long as a country highway, and “dadgum’’ will always be a go-to adjective. He’s gone from calling his wife “honey’’ to “momma” to “memaw’’ but always with the same dose of adoration.

Carol and Mike Martin were recently married in 1964 when they left their home in North Carolina so he could try out as a centerfielder for FSU’s baseball team. Three children, four grandchildren, 16 trips to the College World Series and 55 years later, they still haven’t left Tallahassee.

“She always had a say in my career, but she always knew what I wanted,’’ Martin said. “Carol made me what I turned out to be.

“She didn’t say anything to me after the first game she saw me in a Seminole uniform. She didn’t come up and say, “You look good in that Seminole uniform. It’d be a good idea if you could get a basehit sometime.’ She was just always there. Thank God.’’

The only dark shadow, of course, is that Martin has never won a College World Series. For all the regular season success, and all of the trips to Omaha, the Seminoles never quite pulled it off.

This year is not likely to offer a fairy tale ending. FSU needed one of the final at-large bids to make the NCAA field, and didn’t get to host a regional as a top seed. Instead, the Seminoles are in Athens, Ga. as the No. 3 seed in a four-team field and will open against No. 2 FAU.

But just as the 2,023 victories do not define his life, neither does the lack of an NCAA championship ring. It’s the warmth, the southern charm, the self-deprecating humor that matter. It’s the players he’s mentored, and the memories he’s left behind.

He is not yet gone, and already Mike Martin is missed.

“Daddy was raised in the Depression, and he didn’t really like it that I would play baseball, literally, from sunup to sundown. He couldn’t understand why,’’ Martin said. “One of his statements to me was, “You will never amount to anything if all you do is concentrate on baseball.’

“I’ve been trying to prove him wrong for about 60 years.’’

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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