Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. Before the 'Noles have a chance to win it all, they have to do something that they haven't done since 2000 - actually make it Omaha.
During the 1990s, it seemed as if it was Florida State's birthright to land in Omaha in early June, going eight times in 10 years. Since 2000, however, the Noles have stumbled in the Super-Regionals, in 2001 to Georgia and in 2002 to Notre Dame. So what must this year's squad do to make it back to that hallowed field in the middle of a state full of corn?
Of course the easy answers are the obvious ones - stay free of injury, play solid defense, don't peak too early, etc.. But let's dig a little deeper and figure out a few specifics:
Junior catcher Tony Richie.
Tony Richie must continue to take charge behind the plate. Nearly everyone who has seen any preseason practice so far has talked about the change in Richie this season. He's really taken charge out there on the diamond and it's very apparent. Richie's defense has always been there and his bat really came alive last season. Now the mental aspect seems to be there as well and will help make Richie a more complete player and should provide much needed on-field leadership.
Senior pitcher Matt Lynch.
Jerrod Brown needs to keep playing the solid defense that earned him second team All-ACC honors in 2002 and needs to get plenty of at-bats with the bases-loaded, a situation where Brown usually excelled in 2002. Coach Mike Martin admits that Jerrod was the biggest surprise of the 2002 campaign, coming seemingly out of nowhere to win the first base starting nod, but Brown's carefree spirit also seemed to loosen up the rest of the team, especially in big games. Brown needs to continue to have fun and let it show, to remind the other players that it's still a game.
Senior firstbaseman Jerrod Brown.
Daniel Hodges needs to continue be one of the nastiest pitchers in the land for FSU to go far into postseason play in 2003. It's no secret that FSU has had trouble nailing down a closer for quite some time now. It seems that just when someone gets comfortable in that role, the meltdown begins for one reason or another.
Mike DiBlasi in 2000, Justin Lord in 2001, and Eric Roman last season all suffered the same fate. Hodges has something on all of them, a screwball that is nearly impossible to hit when thrown correctly. He's got no 90+ MPH fastball as most traditional closers have, but his 'junk' got the job done in the last half of 2002 and should be successful this season.
Tony McQuade must hit better for power and needs to drive in more runs. In 2002, McQuade had the second highest batting average on the team at .376 yet was seventh in RBIs. Simply put, much of his work was done with the bases empty. For the Seminoles to advance to the next level, McQuade needs to be much more of a clutch hitter and less of a 'lone wolf'. Someone needs to fill the void that Ryan Barthelemy left in the lineup; my guess is that McQuade will be that player.
The combined efforts of Kevin Richmond and Brandon Manasa at second base need to show a lot more consistency than Bryan Zech has shown there for the past two seasons. Zech's .922 fielding percentage was the lowest on the team and is the sole reason why he's no longer starting in the field.
While no one is expecting Drew-like numbers from secondbase, if Richmond is going to win the job, he's going to need to improve on last season's .267 batting average. His experience combined with Manasa's versatility and ability to play any infield position should give Richmond the nod to start to the season. Whether or not he keeps it will be determined by his consistency in the field and at the plate.
These are just some of the keys that the Seminoles are going to need to go the distance in 03, production from freshman and newcomers is certainly going to be needed, as well as strong relief efforts from veterans like
Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium.
The fans are expecting big things from this ballclub this season, due in part to such a disappointing football season and thus far, a mediocre basketball season. Hopes are running extremely high and the spotlight is about to be turned onto the baseball program yet again. Here's hoping they perform up to expectations and deliver Florida State it's first ever College World Series Championship.