The Seminoles enter fall camp with more new players than returners in Mike Martin’s final year as coach.
Curt Weiler, Tallahassee Democrat
Legendary Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin will retire following his 40th season next year.
David Coburn, the Seminoles’ interim athletic director, told the Democrat a search committee will help identify candidates. Coburn said he hopes to name a new head coach quickly after the 2019 season.
Martin, 74, became the winningest coach in college baseball history with his 1,976th victory at Clemson May 5. He enters this season 13 wins from becoming the first coach to reach the 2,000 win mark.
Martin also has the best winning percentage among active head coaches, sporting a .736 win percentage to go along with 16 trips to the College World Series.
FSU returns a talented team that would love nothing more than to give Martin and the Seminoles their first national title in baseball as a parting gift.
The Seminoles open their season with a three-game home series Feb. 15-17 against the Maine Black Bears. FSU’s 56-game schedule features 36 home games and 19 games against NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago.
For the sake of fun conversation, Democrat sports editor Jim Henry offers his “Pick Six” candidates who could step in as the Seminoles’ new skipper.
And away we go – and in no particular order:
MIKE MARTIN JR.
The best possible candidate to replace Mike Martin might already be at Florida State.
Who knows FSU baseball and its standards better than Mike Martin, Jr.?
Martin Jr., a catcher, played on the 1993-95 FSU teams and completed his 21st season as an assistant coach last year under his father.
Nobody has worked harder in garnet and gold than Martin Jr., also the program’s recruiting coordinator.
Despite the news last June that Mike Martin planned to retire after the 2019 season, combined with the summer departure of fellow assistant coach Mike Bell to become Pittsburgh’s new head coach, Martin Jr. kept the Seminoles’ heralded 2018 recruiting class intact.
The class was ranked third best nationally by Baseball America. It followed the Seminoles’ 2017 class that was ranked fifth nationally by D1Baseball.com, helping further strengthen the program’s future.
Additionally, FSU’s offense, under the tutelage of Martin Jr, has been one of the country’s most prolific over the past two decades. The Seminoles have posted a .302 batting average, .472 slugging percentage and averaged 7.8 runs per game during that time.
Martin Jr., 45, also handles FSU catchers and, in large part, has helped direct the day-to-day practice duties.
Martn Jr. – nicknamed “Meat” – supports the university’s decision to hold a national search for his father’s replacement. In a previous interview with the Democrat, Martin Jr. wants what is best for the university and program.
“My passion and love for this place, my knowledge and work ethic, I think I can hang with anybody,” Martin Jr. said.
“That’s all I ever wanted was a chance. I wanted a chance to play here and I was granted that opportunity and made something out of it. The same thing with coaching. Of course, I want to be the head coach. But I do think it (national search) is the right thing. You just don’t hand it to somebody.”
Martin Jr. also hasn’t changed his recruiting pitch to players and parents.
“We have always sold the university,” Martin Jr. said
“This is what we are about. This is a family and this is why you join. These kids are freshmen and sophomores, they had a pretty good idea the boss isn’t going to be there (their entire careers). Again, we’ve done well and hung in there by selling the fact that, hey, this place is special. It’s different. The fans are amazing.”
David Ross in garnet and gold?
First, the facts.
Ross has stayed busy in retirement following a 15-year Major League career that was punctuated by World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox (2013) and the Chicago Cubs (2016).
Ross, 41, is an icon of sorts, too.
The Tallahassee resident and former Florida High player is a best-selling author, pitchman, motivational speaker and, hey, who can forget he finished second in ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” in 2017?
On Tuesday, ESPN announced it had reached a multi-year contract extension with Ross to continue his role as an MLB analyst and be involved with ESPN’s game and studio coverage.
Ross also will continue to serve as a special assistant with the Chicago Cubs. Prior to ESPN’s announcement Tuesday, there was chatter of the Cubs luring Ross into a role as Joe Maddon’s new bench coach in 2019.
Now, the fun facts.
There are FSU fans who have told Ross they think he’d be perfect as the Seminoles’ new baseball coach. Ross admits he is intrigued by the idea, but it’s not one he has given much thought to or pursued at all.
But this much is certain.
“One of the favorite times in my career was college baseball,” said Ross, who played in the College World Series at Auburn and Florida.
“To be able to impact young men and help develop them as players and people would be rewarding. When you look back, it’s neat to see how much your coaches touch your life. When I am asked about it (FSU by fans), I take it as a huge compliment.”
Ross also added that, well OK, it would be nice to work close to home. And, yes, he has secretly mapped out strategy if one day he ever decided to coach college baseball. Best friend and former Florida High teammate Jason Jackson is the pitching coach at the University of Alabama.
Many also know Ross is a fan of FSU athletics; he sold soft drinks at FSU baseball games as a youth.
“I am definitely open to listening,” Ross smiled. “If you are a baseball fan – especially of college baseball – everyone knows Florida State is a great job, one of the best in the country. But I have a lot of great opportunities that I am enjoying right now.”
Nobody in Tallahassee is surprised by Link Jarrett’s career path and his success in baseball.
Jarrett was groomed in the shadows of Florida State’s baseball field, playing at old Florida High.
He was the Seminoles’ starting shortstop on three College World Series teams (1991, 1992 and 1994) and still holds the NCAA record for career assists with 802. Jarrett played professional baseball, but he always felt he’d be a coach one day.
Where has time gone?
Jarrett, 46, is entering his seventh season as the head coach at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he has developed players, on and off the field, set records and raised the program’s expectations.
In fact, one of Jarrett’s greatest strengths has been his ability to impact many different schools. He has gained valuable experience with stops as an assistant at Flagler in 1999, followed by stops at Mercer, FSU, East Carolina and Auburn.
And to think Jarrett’s journey began in Tallahassee. He points to his time at FSU under coach Mike Martin as a player and later as a volunteer assistant coach as irreplaceable.
“Eleven had such a profound impact on my development as a player, person, and coach,” Jarrett said.
“His ability to manage personnel combined with instincts and work ethic were traits that have allowed him to win with amazing consistency. Having coached in six programs, I have picked up many ideas, thoughts, and concepts along the way. As Seminoles, we all respect and reflect on the foundation that was created for us at FSU.”
Jarrett is building his own legacy.
Last year’s UNCG team finished 39-15, marking three-straight seasons with 36 or more wins for the first time in program history.
The program also captured six All-Southern Conference awards, including the program’s first-ever sweep of Player and Pitcher of the Year. Jarrett was named the league’s Coach of the Year for the second time. His 2017 team made the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than 20 years.
The Spartans’ academic achievement hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Its cumulative grade-point average of 3.22 during the spring of 2018 was highest GPA of any men’s sport at the school.
Jarrett also is actively involved in baseball legislation, serving as the conference’s committee representative and voting in the USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll. He will be a featured speaker at the annual coaches convention next month in Dallas.
Jarrett can look back to see how far he has come.
UNCG has set 29 program records under Jarrett. He has coached Players of the Year at three different schools, and, during his tenure, was voted an SEC and Conference USA assistant coach of the year. His teams have led their respective conferences in batting nine times in the last 11 years. More than 70 players have gone on to play professional baseball.
Of course, his roots remain in Tallahassee, where his parents still reside.
“The family and friendship bonds Jennifer (wife) and I have in Tallahassee run very deep,” Jarrett said. “Our six moves have created amazing opportunities for us, (children) JT, and Dawson. Jen and I still cherish our roots.”
Jeff Johnson wants his Chipola College players to be fundamentally sound and prepared mentally and physically.
“You don’t worry about the other team as much as you worry about yourself,” Johnson said. “We try to be fundamentally sound and get percentages in our favor.”
The Liberty County native has built the Indians into one of the most successful and respected JUCO programs nationally during his 21 seasons.
Johnson, 53, has won three national titles, including the past two consecutive seasons in 2017 and 2018, at the Marianna school. He has had more than 225 players advance to four-year universities, including Florida State, or into professional baseball.
All stars at the Major League level from Chipola College have included outfielder Jose Baustista, catcher Russell Martin and pitcher Patrick Corbin. Corbin recently signed a six-year deal worth $140 million with the Washington Nationals.
The Indians’ popular annual alumni weekend and tourney each spring also attracts waves of fans and professional scouts.
Consistency is a byproduct of Johnson’s coaching philosophy with 828 career wins and a nearly 70-percent winning percentage.
Chipola has won 13 Panhandle Conference titles – five in a row and seven of the past eight years – and has advanced to the state tourney title game eight of the past 11 years. Johnson has received numerous coaching awards across state, regional and national levels.
Johnson genuinely respects what coach Mike Martin has accomplished at FSU.
“To me FSU is one of the top five programs in the country, from its tradition, to administrative support to attendance to recruiting,” Johnson said.
“It has everything you want as a baseball program. It’s a testament to the hard work that Mike and his staff have put in over the years. You have to believe in what you are doing and there’s a trust factor involved, too. This stuff doesn’t happen by luck.”
For Doug Mientkiewicz, Florida State is his dream job.
The feelings – love, passion and pride – the Miami native has for the Seminoles are undeniable.
Mientkiewicz still gets emotional talking about his career 23 ago at FSU, where he was an All-American first baseman and one of the team’s undisputed leaders.
“You are looking to replace one of the biggest legends in college sports, specifically in baseball, and a lot of responsibility comes with that,” Mientkiewicz said. “The precedent Eleven (Mike Martin) has set is almost impossible to quantify, the level of winning. … it’s such a huge commitment. I can tell you we will never be unprepared.”
Mientkiewicz, 44, is a proven commodity. He is one of five American players to win both an Olympic gold medal (2000) and a World Series championship (2004 with the Boston Red Sox.). He was elected to FSU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002.
Following his 12-year career in the Major Leagues, Mientkiewicz worked as an analyst for the 2010 MLB post-season for CBSSports.com before he decided to return to professional baseball as a coach.
Mientkiewicz has coached in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and currently in the Detroit Tigers organizations. In October 2014, he was a finalist to become the manager of the Minnesota Twins. He has coached the Tigers’ Triple A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, the past two years.
Mientkiewicz, 44, believes his professional experience will help at the collegiate level in player development, on and off the field. He also believes in hard work, accountability and, above all, being prepared.
“I ride my guys really hard,” Mientkiewicz admitted. “I always tell them pressure creeps into the unprepared. We will never be unprepared. I am always concerned but, when the time comes, you let the leash go. It’s important to be playing your best ball when it matters most.”
As importantly, Mientkiewicz wants his players to respect each other and respect the game.
He was a star – and a teammate of Alex Rodriguez – at Westminster Christian High School in Miami. A dozen players from that team were offered Division I scholarships, seven were picked in the amateur draft and three reached the major leagues.
Mientkiewicz’s allegiance to the Seminoles remains strong.
“I learned so much from Eleven,” said Mientkiewicz, who lives in Islamorada.
“I have done some amazing things in this game, from rings to medals, but it still keeps me up at night that I wasn’t part of the group that gave him that first national title. That pain doesn’t go away.”
Pedro Grifol is well respected across baseball because of his breadth of experience.
Grifol is entering his seventh season in the Kansas City organization and fifth on the major-league staff.
He is currently the Royals’ quality control/catching coach, this after taking over as the club’s hitting coach midway through the 2013 season. Grifol won a World Series title with Kansas City 2015 – the team also featured former Madison County and TCC outfielder Lorenzo Cain.
Earlier this month, Grifol also was one of five other reported candidates the Baltimore Orioles entertained as their new manager before they selected Brandon Hyde. During his career, Grifol also worked for the Seattle Mariners in different capacities, from scouting to managing in the minor leagues and serving as their director of minor league operations.
Grifol, 49, who resides in Arizona with his wife and three daughters, could be considered an ideal candidate for the FSU job (even though he’s not pursuing it) because of his passion and respect for the program.
Grifol is among the former Seminoles who deeply appreciates his time in Tallahassee and the opportunity to play for coach Mike Martin.
Grifol, a Miami native, was an All-American catcher who helped FSU reach the CWS in 1989 and 1991. Martin had so much faith in Grifol that he allowed the catcher to call pitches during games.
“Throughout the years, we created a trust and a bond. It was a great phase in my life,” Grifol said in earlier interview.
Grifol also applauded Martin’s career when Martin became college baseball’s all-time winningest coach, surpassing the late Augie Garrido last spring.
Grifol also firmly believes Martin’s legacy extends beyond the dugout. He described Martin as a “pillar of stability” for him, always knowing the right thing to say in any situation.
“He always understood what coaching is all about — developing young men and making sure they are good sons, good fathers and good husbands,” Grifol said. “That’s what he’s great at. On top of that, he wins. He was born to be a coach. He was born to be the best ever.
“Now, he’s the best ever.”