Inside Pitch Magazine, May/June 2019

Cover Interview: Mike Martin, Florida State University

Inside Pitch Magazine CoverThe legendary Mike Martin capped off a 40-year head coaching career at FSU in 2019, retiring as the all-time winningest coach in college baseball history after a 3-2, 13-inning win at No. 9 Clemson on May 5, 2018. He eclipsed the 2,000 win mark this past March after a Seminoles victory over Virginia Tech.

Affectionately known as ‘11’ by many who come into contact with him, Martin has been inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame (2005), the ABCA Hall of Fame (2007) and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (2018). He played at Florida State in 1965 and 1966 and served as an assistant from 1975-79 before taking over as the Seminole skipper in 1980. Martin has been a mainstay at arguably the premier college baseball program in the country, having been associated with the program for 48 of FSU’s 73 seasons.

In addition to his Hall of Fame accolades, Martin has been named a Wingate University Distinguished Alumnus, been awarded the Bernard F. Sliger Award for Service (the highest honor accorded by the Florida State University Alumni Association), was named to FSU’s list of 100 distinguished graduates, and had the Tallahassee Memorial HeathCare’s children’s center and newborn intensive care unit named after him- the “Mike Martin Family Playroom.”

‘11’ has set the college baseball world on fire, establishing a tradition of excellence at Florida State that is unlikely to ever be matched. The Seminoles racked up 40+ wins in 41 consecutive seasons leading up to 2019 (the next longest streak is Louisville, with seven), also reaching the postseason in as many campaigns under Martin’s watch, including 29 consecutive NCAA Regionals (25 as the hosts). Since the start of the 2000 season, Florida State has won more games than any other program, reaching the College World Series 16 times, and been named Coach of the Year 13 times- six times in the Metro Conference and seven times in the ACC.

FSU baseball’s accomplishments under Martin include 19 conference championships, 135 All-ACC nods and 139 All-America honors, including 35 first team All-Americans. ‘11’ has coached eight National Players of the year, 214 Major League Baseball draft picks (19 first rounders) and four Golden Spikes Award winners. Martin’s teams have also excelled off the field; in six seasons of presenting the ACC Sportsmanship Award, Martin’s Seminoles won the award twice. FSU has led the ACC in number of players named to the ACC academic team six times in 13 years.

A 1966 graduate of Florida State, Martin earned his Master’s degree in 1971. 

Inside Pitch: What is your most cherished memorabilia item?

Mike Martin: I’ve got a picture of my son catching for Team USA, and the naming of the field after me, that was certainly one of the highlights of my career. 

Inside Pitch: What’s the farthest ball you’ve ever seen hit?

MM: J.D. Drew hit a ball at our ballpark and unfortunately, the tree he hit is gone now. We had a guy from the Science Department come out and measure it and said it went 535 feet. Now had I not seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it. 

Inside Pitch: What is the best crowd your team has ever played in front of?

MM: We get 7-8,000 come out when we play Florida, but the last time we went to Omaha there were over 22,000 there at TD Ameritrade Park.

Inside Pitch: What’s your best advice when it comes to practice planning/organization?

MM: Get your pitchers involved in every element of practice that you can. 

Inside Pitch: What’s the best trick play you’ve ever witnessed?

MM: The best trick play I ever saw was the one Skip Bertman (who was an assistant for head coach Ron Fraser at Miami) pulled at the College World Series in 1982:

The pitcher stepped off and ball faked to first. The first baseman jumped for that fake ball, then turned and sprinted towards the bullpen down the right field line. The guys in the bullpen scattered as if the ball was coming down there. The runner took off for second as he was looking back of his shoulder at the chaos in the bullpen. And then the pitcher, who had the ball in his glove the whole time, flipped it to the second baseman, who was standing about 15 feet from second and tagged that runner out.

Search YouTube for “Best of the CWS: The Grand Illusion

Inside Pitch: What was your main takeaway from your experience coaching basketball at Godby High School and Tallahassee Community College?

MM: In coaching at any level, we learn that in order to be successful, everyone has to be on the same page. For example, if you and I are working on a pick and roll in basketball and I don’t set a good pick, I’m going to be covered, how in the world are you going to get me the ball? If I do set a good pick and you’re thinking about taking your own shot, that’s either selfish or a lack of focus on what you’ve been taught.

In baseball, if you don’t communicate, you’ve got problems. 

Inside Pitch: What’s the story of how you earned the nickname ‘11’?

MM: When I was a player here I wore 15 in one color and 22 in another uniform. What happened when I got that nickname was during my first year as an assistant. We were working our outfielders pretty hard on this particular day and everyone was getting to hit but the outfielders because I wasn’t real pleased with what I’d been seeing. After about thirty minutes of drills, one of them said to me “hey one-one, are we ever going to get to hit?” and I said something to the effect of “I’ll tell you what, if we start breaking back the way we should, if we cut balls off in the gap the way we should, then yeah, you can hit.” Ten more minutes or so went by and the kid said “hey eleven, can we go hit now?” and I said sure. The next day, everyone was calling me ‘Eleven!’

Inside Pitch: What’s the main thing you’d like to see when it comes to change in college baseball?

MM: In order to compete, coaches have to be out on the road, they have to work their fingers to the bone. I would think that the biggest area right now for a head coach is being able to hire a third assistant. The player to coach ratio is just wrong, 35 players and three coaches. How in the world can a pitching coach work with 15+ guys?

Aren’t we trying to help players get better and give them every opportunity to improve and maybe even get to the big leagues? There isn’t even a set figure for what you’d have to pay them. How many people would come for $30,000, for example? That’s my main hangup.

Inside Pitch: Of all the uniform combinations you have at Florida State, what’s your favorite?

MM: It has to be the Sunday golds. Those go back to the early 80s, when Chuck Tanner’s son Bruce and I tried to replicate the Pittsburgh Pirates uniforms. They called us the banana boys because the uniforms were yellow at first, but it became something where people would tell me they wanted to come to Florida State because of those uniforms.

Inside Pitch: How do you handle the different personalities you have on your team when it comes to correcting players?

You have to be careful because that’s a fine line. I try to get to know the guys; there’s some people that are tougher than others, but they can’t be treated any differently than the ‘meek’ guys. If a tough guy and a meek guy are both involved in a play that needed to be made that we’ve worked and worked on, you can’t get on the tough guy and change the way you talk to the meek guy.

For me to sit here and tell you I never get nervous, that’s a big lie. Now what makes me mad is the mental mistakes, or when we don’t execute the fundamentals like a double play feed or missing a cutoff man. You spend so much time on it and coaches have a right to expect it to be done the right way. That lack of concentration is discouraging to me. 

Inside Pitch: How do you handle personal failure when it comes to coaching decisions?

MM: We’re playing a very good team recently and their best hitter is up. We have a base open and the guy that I had in there wasn’t the right guy for the situation. The right guy was warming up in the bullpen but he just wasn’t ready. I didn’t have a trip left. The first pitch was a strike, which was the worst thing that could’ve happened! I said to our assistant right as our guy was coming set for the next pitch, “we gotta put this guy on” and the kid hit it out on the next pitch. 

It’s just a game where anything can happen. 

The main thing you try not to do is overreact. Don’t change everything you’ve been doing. Minor tweaks are good, but not major changes like benching half your team. You’ve got to be consistent. Your players can see right through to doubts you may have about them if you make those big changes. It’s easy to say, but you better do it if you want to be consistent.

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.