Mike Martin: NCAA baseball's all-time winningest coach

College baseball's all-time winningest coach is halfway to retirement.

One hour, Mike Martin is preparing Florida State (39-21) for its super regional series at LSU (40-24). The next, he's continuing the never-ending gardening battle with the "stinking dad-gum deer" that chow down on his household plants.

Martin, 75, rinsed the soil from his hands Tuesday afternoon, having just reinforced the garden of his lakeside home with a new platoon of border plants.

He set the phone aside so he could scrub the dirt clean from his fingers; that way he'd avoid having to "listen to Momma" for getting mud everywhere in the house.

Martin and his wife, Carol, live next to a golf course in Tallahassee, Florida, and if Martin had followed his initial plan, he'd already be a retired man, playing a few rounds a week.

One more year. That's what Martin told former Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox back before the 2018 season began.

So why then, when Martin finished that season with 1,987 wins, passing the late Augie Garrido for most wins in NCAA baseball history, did he find himself committing to a 40th season?

Wilcox called Martin into his office shortly after the Seminoles' season ended in the 2018 NCAA regionals, telling his coach he was 13 wins away from a milestone perhaps no one else would ever reach.

"Mike," Wilcox said. "Two thousand doesn't sound bad."

Martin tilted his head. "Are you (asking) do I want to go back?"

"Two thousand ain't bad, Mike," Wilcox said.

"Are you serious?"

"Why not?"

"Well," Martin said. "I'll go home and mention it to Carol."

It took hardly two seconds, Martin said, before Carol said, "Let's go one more year."

Win No. 2,000 came quickly, when Florida State beat Virginia Tech 5-2 in the second game of a March 9 doubleheader to improve to 13-1.

The man who says he's "not the type to, so-called, toot my horn" was thrust into the spotlight, receiving congratulatory gifts on every stop in the Atlantic Coast Conference season.

Now, Martin needs wins Nos. 2,027 and No. 2,028 to beat LSU in a best-of-three series and advance to his 17th College World Series appearance since he took over the Florida State program in 1980.

That's one of the few knocks against the Hall of Fame coach: Mike Martin has never won a national championship.

"Some people seem to think that tarnishes his reputation in some way," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Tuesday. "I'm not one of those people. You have to win an awful lot of big games to win 2,000 games and get to Omaha 16 times."

Martin has a 21-32 record at the College World Series, where his Florida State teams have been runners-up twice and tussled with LSU five times, most recently in 2017, when Mainieri's Tigers beat the Seminoles twice to eliminate them.

Martin went 1-2 in games against former LSU coach Skip Bertman, including a 6-3 semifinals loss in 2000 when the Seminoles entered the ninth inning tied 3-3.

"The ups and downs of the games in Omaha, and the fortune, good and bad, is unbelievable up there," said Bertman, who won five national titles at LSU from 1984 to 2001. "It's hard to win the College World Series."

Martin's built a program that annually has a chance to make a run. His teams have never missed the postseason in his 40 years of coaching. But for a long time, that elusive championship had him comparing himself to Captain Ahab.

"It really hasn't (bothered me) in the last, oh, 15 years," Martin said. "I can't say that in the beginning of my career. It was like me chasing the whale. That's the way I felt."

The whale

Martin's first win at Florida State was hard enough.

On Feb. 22, 1980, Martin began his first season as the Seminoles' head coach in a nonconference game against Miami.

At the time, Bertman was a Miami assistant under the late Ron Fraser, who led the Hurricanes to national titles in 1982 and 1985.

Miami throttled Florida State 10-0 that day, and the Seminoles never got a man to third base.

"I was thinking 'Holy smokes, what have I gotten into?' " Martin said.

Florida State lost the second game, too, but finally pushed through in the third game, when Martin remembers that Mike Yastrzemski — son of Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski — hit a three-run home run in the top of the ninth to beat the Hurricanes 9-8.

Out of all the years and all the games, the names are what Martin remembers best.

Deion Sanders, the three-sport star who helped Florida State reach three consecutive College World Series from 1986 to 1988, was the best athlete he ever coached.

"Heck, he could've played basketball," Martin said of Sanders, a Pro Football Hall of Famer. "He just loved life. His teammates just enjoyed him like he was, well, what he is: a true superstar."

Martin said Kevin Cash, now the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, was "what I call a beautiful baseball player," whose arm strength in the infield "was second to none." Cash hit the game-winning home run against Stanford in 1999 to reach the College World Series finals.

Then there's Buster Posey, the future Hall of Fame catcher for the San Francisco Giants, who started out as a shutdown pitcher and All-American shortstop at Florida State in 2006 before humbly agreeing with Martin's son and assistant coach, Mike Martin Jr., to move to catcher.

"Posey is one of those teammates that only comes along once in a while," Martin said.

Teammates from as long as 40 years ago pilgrimaged to Dick Howser Stadium on May 12, for Martin's final game in a stadium that has its field named after him.

After Florida State's 7-2 win over Richmond, the former players surrounded their coach at an event full of memories.

"To see guys come in with their families," Martin said, "laughing about games that they played in, reminiscing about their trips to the College World Series. ... It was just a night that I'll never forget."

A night like that is of no surprise to Bertman, who spent several years watching him from the other side of the field.

"He doesn't pace down the dugout," Bertman said. "He believes in his players and they believe in themselves. He never gives up. He is the epitome of the coaching Hall of Fame." 

Said Mainieri: "I think Mike Martin is on the Mount Rushmore of college baseball coaches. He's been one of my heroes."

'That's not going to define me'

Martin sees Florida State's upcoming super regional with LSU as "an opportunity," no different than the 39 postseason opportunities that have come before.

His last Seminoles team, Bertman said, isn't his most powerful. The last NCAA RPI rankings ranked Florida State No. 50 in the country.

But, c'est la baseball, Florida State walloped No. 3-ranked Georgia 12-3 and 10-1 in consecutive elimination games in regional play to reach Baton Rouge.

And even if Martin's last season doesn't end in a final push for his first national championship, he's a man who has come to terms with not chasing the whale. 

"I've stopped, and started focusing on the important stuff," Martin said. "Here's what I've been saying all along: Do I want to win a national championship? Certainly I do. As much as anybody who's ever coached. But I also know how difficult it is.

"I can't be disappointed in the fact that we never won a national championship. How about the good times I've enjoyed in the great state of Nebraska? How much joy have I had seeing players become great husbands and fathers and, heck, grandaddies. I've got a few of those. Not winning a championship? That's not going to define me."