The Florida State baseball team has accomplished everything there is to accomplish at the collegiate level, except of course the one thing Seminole supporters have been waiting for decade after decade: win a national championship.
33rd-year coach Mike Martin and Co. are on their way to the College World Series yet again following a sweep of Stanford this weekend in the Tallahassee Super Regional, overpowering the Cardinal with 35 runs in two games while surrendering only eight tallies. This will be FSU's 21st trip to Omaha, as no other program has been so often without emerging victorious.
Although 'Nole fans have heard it all before, this might be the Garnet and Gold's best chance to come home with the hardware, despite the fact that the ballclub was only ranked 20th or so in most of the preseason polls. They have a veteran lineup that revolves around an unquestioned leader in James Ramsey, a rotation featuring a pair of Freshman All-Americans, a lights-out closer at the back end of the bullpen and an airtight defense with a penchant for turning double plays. With a little luck, Martin may finally get the 800-pound gorilla off his back that was originally a cute little monkey on the heels of his first CWS failure in 1980 -- his debut season as skipper.
Sitting down for an exclusive interview with NoleDigest.com prior to the start of the 2012 campaign, Martin seemed determined as ever to win a title but stopped short of letting the pursuit consume him.
"When you ain't won one in 32 years, who thinks you are going to win one this year?" he said with a laugh at his office in Dick Howser Stadium back in January. "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."
It begins with Ramsey, a 22nd-round selection of the Minnesota Twins last June who ultimately decided that getting paid to play could wait a bit, and he was rewarded by being taken in Round 1 by the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals this past week.
Starting every game in center field, the Alpharetta (GA) Wesleyan High School alum -- and recent college grad with a degree in Finance -- is hitting .382 with a team-leading 13 home runs and 57 RBIs, slugging a Ruthian .673 and getting on base at a stunning .519 clip. Ramsey also stole 10 bags, hit into just one double play all season long and didn't make a single error on defense.
Nevertheless, despite his amazing numbers, the 6-foot, 190-pounder is perhaps even more valuable in the dugout than he is on the field, evidenced by his lead-by-example approach and child-like infatuation with the game. Ramsey has described the dynamic of Florida State by saying the team is a thoroughbred racing horse and he's simply the jockey, riding a mix of experienced position players and inexperienced pitchers with crop in hand. If the Regional was the Kentucky Derby and the Super Regional was the Preakness, the College World Series represents not only the Belmont Stakes, but an elusive Triple Crown-like triumph that puts a ring on Martin's deserving finger once and for all.
Even though he and his teammates were swept aside in the ACC Tournament in May without winning a game and the here-we-go-again groans started to come from the Seminole faithful, Ramsey didn't panic.
"Going into the season we're ranked 20th in the country, and a lot of guys were really upset at one of our first days in spring practice," he said after Sunday's clinching win over the Cardinal. "I was like, 'Guys, we gotta peak in June.'"
FSU appears to have done just that, as Stanford came to the Capital City with an impressive résumé of its own and first rounder Mark Appel ready to take to the mound Friday in Game 1.
But Appel only lasted four innings and gave up seven runs (five earned) on five hits, four walks and two hit batsmen, opening the gates for the 'Noles to crush the Cardinal 17-1. Game 2 was much of the same, with Florida State scoring 18 times, half of those runs coming on homers from Jayce Boyd in the first, Sherman Johnson in the second and Seth Miller in the eighth -- Miller's was a grand slam, as all three of his long balls in 2012 have been grannies.
It remains to be seen if the Seminoles can stay hot at the plate once they arrive at TD Ameritrade Park later this week, and they must avoid what has been a problem for Martin's clubs in the past in the double-elimination format: dropping the first tilt and being sent to the loser's bracket. Rarely can a team fight its way out unscathed and win it all, not with those extra games inevitably exhausting every arm on the pitching staff. More than half of the field is set, as FSU will be joined by Arizona, UCLA, underdog Stony Brook and rival Florida in Omaha, with the Oklahoma-South Carolina, Kent-State-Oregon and Baylor-Arkansas matchups in the Super Regionals to be decided by the end of Monday.
If the two-time defending champion Gamecocks get past the Sooners, Martin would like his chances that much more.
"You gotta be so lucky," he said in that same January interview. "If South Carolina wins [another] national championship, I will walk to Havana."
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
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