April 20, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Mike Martin is a wise man. You don't get to 1,703 career victories and generate the kind of success he's had without knowing a thing or two about the game of baseball.
So when FSU's longtime skipper speaks and the words drip off his lips with that patented southern drawl, you listen. And you listen carefully. Not just because the man is a quote waiting to happen, capable of giving you comedic gold at any moment, but also because he speaks the truth.
"Miami and Florida State; that's about all you need to say, isn't it?" Martin said Thursday.
The No. 1 'Noles and No. 18 'Canes will clash for the 266th, 267th and 268th times in their storied series history starting tonight at 6 p.m. and, coupled with the end of the football team's spring-practice period, all eyes will be on Dick Howser Stadium for the next few days.
Saturday's game, which Thursday was officially switched to a noon start time because of the threat of late-day severe weather, is already sold out. Tickets are also limited to tonight's contest and Sunday's 12:30 game as fans gear up for up the renewal of this historic rivalry featuring two teams that have advanced to a combined 43 College World Series.
"It's something you look forward to every year and it's going to be a lot of fun," FSU second baseman Devon Travis said.
These games may be exciting for the fans and players but they create a unique challenge for Martin and his coaching staff.
How do you manage emotions in a rivalry that is, well, so emotional?
"I could say, 'Treat this series like any other series' and that's like me saying, 'When I get on the first tee at Augusta I'm going to feel the same way that I do when I play Southwood.' It' ain't gonna happen," Martin quipped. "But at the same time, I want our guys to be excited and feel the importance.
"I just don't want them to be out of themselves and think that, 'If this ground ball comes to me and I miss it, people are going to think I'm no good and I let my team down.' Just go play."
This weekend's series will mark Miami's first time in Tallahassee since taking part in some high drama two seasons ago.
The last time the Hurricanes were on Mike Martin Field, the Seminoles won the Saturday and Sunday games in the 2010 series on back-to-back walk-off home runs. It was a thrilling couple of days for everyone in support of the Seminoles and equally heartbreaking for those in support of the Hurricanes.
But it was typical for a highly competitive and nail-biting series that has seen both teams win six of the last 12 games, with eight of those 12 games being decided by two runs or less.
So even though Florida State comes into the series with a 30-7 record and Miami makes the state-long trek north with a 26-11 record as both teams fight for position atop the league standings, all predictions and expectations are thrown out the window come first pitch.
"Numbers don't matter at all when Florida State and Miami are playing," Travis said.
The 'Canes may have lost seven of their last 14 games prior to Friday's matchup but FSU's visitors still boast one of the better pitching staffs in the ACC -- a group consisting of weekend starters Eric Erickson, Eric Whaley and Steven Ewing that together lead a unit ranked second in the league with an ERA of 2.71.
Miami coach Jim Morris, whose long history with FSU dates back to his days as an assistant under Martin (a position he coincidentally held in Martin's first game as 'Noles coach), is fifth on the list of the NCAA's winningest active coaches.
"They really are impressive on the mound," Martin said. We've got to be disciplined and do the things that we do the best.
"These guys are for real and I'm sure they're fired up to come in here and try to knock off one of the better teams in the country," FSU center fielder James Ramsey added.
So as both teams take the field tonight in front of what will be a rowdy and raucous crowd amped up for one of college baseball's biggest and best rivalries, the game-planning and chess match between old friends and foes Martin and Morris will take place.
The Hurricanes come into the games knowing the last time they were in Florida's capital city they were turned away by final at-bat heroics. The Seminoles come into the games in their own ballpark knowing that the same fate could be awaiting them at any crack of the bat.
Both teams are also aware that bragging rights are on the line, and with it the increased pressure to perform -- even if it is just another series in a long season.
"Gosh, to minimize it is stupidity," Martin said. "But at the same time you can't put too much on it because if I'm not mistaken it's still April. You just want to go out and do what you try to do all year. Don't get out of yourself. Don't put too much so-called pressure on yourself.
"Just go play like you tried to play the first 37 [games]."