A conversation with Mike Martin, Pt. III

Ready to begin his 33rd campaign as skipper of the Seminoles, Mike Martin spent time with Nole Digest for this exclusive one-on-one interview. Part III: Will he ever win that elusive national championship?

Nole Digest: How do you judge the character of your players?

Mike Martin: It's like an old boy said one time: "You learn a lot about people on the golf course when they make double bogey." You learn a lot about people in the dugout when they're 0 for 4 and their team won. That's when you learn a lot about people. Or you get your butt beat 9-4, you were 3 for 4, and you go into the clubhouse like you were... That's when you say, "I just don't know about that guy."

ND: You have put a lot of players in the big leagues over the years. How often do you keep in contact with some of these guys? Someone like Buster Posey. Someone like J.D. Drew. Is it a weekly phone call? Is it before the season? Maybe a "good luck" in spring training?

MM: It's funny that you ask that question because, just four days ago, Buster called me and we caught up. To say that I talk to J.D. or Stephen [Drew] or Eduardo [Perez], I see them occasionally. I talk to them occasionally. But it certainly is not a monthly situation. I follow their careers on a daily basis during the season. Not Eduardo anymore. It's still exhilarating to talk to those guys because of what they did for this program.

And then you have many of those guys that say it the right way. Maybe this needs to be said: They say, "Thanks for what Florida State did for me." And that's what we get excited [about] and proud to hear, is when Buster ends his conversation by saying, "I want you to know I'm going to be following y'all closely this year. I really appreciate everything that y'all did for me." I don't want it to sound like the coaching staff. I want it to sound like Florida State. I want it to sound like the people that come out to watch us play, "The Animals," the facilities. That's what still excites me.

How Buster Posey, who when he got hurt [last year], I called him. Instead of bashing the guy that hit him -- I'll do the bashing. Boy, the cheap shot -- his comment was, "I don't get to play all year. I'm not going to get to play baseball all year." That's what most of the professional athletes still are. They just are lovers of the game.

ND: What was it like witnessing Posey win the World Series in 2010 with the San Francisco Giants?

MM: I was excited. I was excited because of his accomplishment. You have a good feel about the game. He had to sell himself to that staff, to that team. And I'll tell you something exactly the way I feel: If he'd been playing last year, they wouldn't have been where they were in September with him behind the plate. 'Cause he has such a good feel for the game and the way he can call pitches and work with pitchers. I mean, in one year, everybody trusted him that had the ball in their hand. It's phenomenal.

But anyway, I'm just so excited now that he is going to come back and catch. He told me the other day that they are going to monitor him in spring training. He will not be able to be turned loose, but he said he hasn't tried squatting for a long period of time. But he's excited about getting back to play. And that's what he misses, is camaraderie in the clubhouse and playing the game.

ND: Have you talked to former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden at all lately? What's he like now that he isn't coaching anymore?

MM: I ran into Coach Bowden over the summer over in Panama City, and I think [his sons] Tommy and Jeff were with him, so you can figure it out for yourself where I was. But anyway, he was same old Bobby.

ND: Have you thought about what it might be like one day to not be the head coach of this program?

MM: Yeah, I have. I don't know when that's going to be. I will not even consider going 10 years more, I can tell you that. I can see the end, let's just put it that way. Now when that is, I don't know. And it's life. God willing, it happens to all of us when we know it's time. When I know it's time, I'm gonna get out.

ND: We know there is only one thing you have not accomplished in this game: win a national championship. If that does happen this year, five years from now, is it only natural to think it might trigger a decision to walk away?

MM: You know, that is such a good question. I very rarely get asked that. When you ain't won one in 32 years, who thinks you are going to win one this year? (laughs) I mean this sincerely: Winning a national championship is not going to be the definition of me. I want guys to come to Florida State and play baseball and be a part of this, and you know what this is. I want them to get to Omaha because that's a part of this. But you gotta be so lucky. If South Carolina wins a national championship, I will walk to Havana. They ain't gonna win it this year. They're not going to win the national championship. There's one team I know is not going to win it, and that's South Carolina. There's no way. Look at how close other teams have been.

I sat here just two months ago. We were shooting the breeze, and somebody talked about the national championship game that we played in in ‘99, and I pulled the stats out and I went, "Son of a gun, we lost a one-run ballgame for the national championship." And I'm thinking, Golly, maybe somebody else would have dwelled on that. I promise you, I haven't dwelled on that. You know what I've dwelled on was the 2002 club. Dadgum we were good, and we didn't even get [to Omaha]. Son of a gun, we were good. How about '97, with J.D. Drew, Jeremy Morris. Who'd we face? The guy that I knew would never amount to anything: [Tim] Hudson. He shuts us down. I'm laughing when I say I knew he would never amount to anything. But he's been up there pitching in the big leagues for how many years as a one, two or three guy? I mean, he's a great pitcher. How come we ended up facing him that time? And by the way, that was the year we lost on a three-run home run to be put in the bracket, and Auburn came back to beat us together. But that was a heck of a club. So those two teams in my mind I recollect just as easy as I do the two national-championship games, and I really mean that.

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I enjoy still as much as ever watching guys get better. Seeing Sherman Johnson as a walk-on, a guy that we called. "Sherman, we had a second baseman get hurt yesterday. I know you're coming out with the walk-ons next week. But if you can come out here today, it would really help us." That's still exhilarating. A kid walks on, wasn't good enough as a freshman, and all of a sudden he looks a little better in the fall of his sophomore year. We did not even think of him playing for us as a starter. He earned it. He beat the guy out. He moved somebody that year, if I'm not mistaken. And then we found out really how good he was when we got Devon [Travis] hurt last year and he goes and plays some second base, which means we didn't have a third baseman. And we put Rafael [Lopez] at third for a while and started catching Parker Brunelle.

I mean it, and I think that people don't think I mean it, but I really mean it. If I retire, and there is a darn good chance that I retire and never win a national championship, but I honestly meant this: It's not going to be a big deal. Because if the miracle happens this year, I ain't leaving.

To go back and read Part II of our exclusive one-on-one interview with Florida State coach Mike Martin, Click Here. For Part I, Click Here.

Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.

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