By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — Mike Martin has been Florida State teams to the College World Series since Paul Mainieri was still a college kid.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The LSU skipper has spent 35 years coaching college baseball and has won more than 1,300 games to date, but he was still a sophomore at Miami Dade Community College the first time Martin piloted the Seminoles to Omaha.
“I’ve known him since I was a college kid,” Mainieri said Friday.
Martin picked up career victory No. 1,900 this season en route to his 16th College World Series appearance. His Seminoles will take on Mainieri’s Tigers at 7 p.m. Saturday at TD Ameritrade in search of his elusive national championship.
Friday’s join press conference of the four coaches in the first pod was a star-studded and jewelry-clad affair.
Mainieri owns one of LSU’s six championships. Pat Casey won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007 at Oregon State. Rick Vanderhook has two rings from his time as a Cal State Fullerton’s top assistant.
But Martin, like Florida State, hold the distinction of having made the most Omaha trips in the sport’s history without bringing home the big trophy at the end.
“I noticed you two didn’t say anything about our National Championships,” Martin chirped, causing the whole room to erupt with laughter.”
“Something’s wrong when I’ve got a ring and Mike doesn’t,” the moderator interjected. “Something’s wrong. That’s wrong.”
The presser as a whole stands as a tour de force of what makes the long-time coach one of the sport’s most beloved figured.
Martin recalled a Seminole coming down with shingles earlier this season, which the 73-year-old remarked was a condition he thought “was my age stuff.” He said there was a time when he felt like Captain Ahab chasing a metallic Moby Dick every time he came to Omaha.
“He’s just a good ole boy,” Mainieri smiled. “Everybody likes Mike and Mike likes everybody. I would guess he’s probably the sentimental favorite for people.”
Florida State’s torrid finish to the season would make the Seminoles the hottest team in the field were it not for white-hot LSU, winners of 16 in a row, and Oregon State, which has lost just four times all season.
That makes Martin a Cinderella story compared in the field of fellow blue bloods and a possible redemption tale decades in the making. It also makes Mainieri and LSU the ones standing in the way of a baseball lifer’s sentimental destiny.
It’s a role Mainieri has played before, albeit at a different school.
Back in 2002, Mainieri’s Notre Dame team stunned a 60-win, unanimous No. 1 Florida State club in the Tallahassee Super Regional.
The two coaches haven’t faced off since, and Mainieri reminded his old friend of that fact at the NCAA Coaches Meeting on Thursday night.
“He walks up to me and says ‘You made me cry. That was the best team I ever had,’” Mainieri told reporters. “I told him, ‘If it’s any consolation, a decade later, the shoe was on the other foot when Stony Brook came to LSU and beat us.’ That’s the kind of upset that was.”
In fact, Mainieri even went so far as to share the fact that he was rooting for Florida State in its super regional against Sam Houston State, which is generally a no-no for coaches.
Now he’ll get his wish.
“I don’t feel like the bad guy. I’ve got a job to do,” Mainieri said. “But I’m glad we don’t have to play them in the finals; let’s put it that way.”
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