Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Van Horn, Martin old hats in Omaha
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn (left) and Florida State coach Mike Martin speak prior to an NCAA super regional game on Saturday, June 12, 2004, in Fayetteville. Martin and Van Horn lead active college baseball coaches in appearances at the College World Series, but this weekend's game will be their first against one another in Omaha.
FAYETTEVILLE The sun refuses to set on Mike Martin's legendary coaching career.
Martin, the 75-year-old Florida State coach who will retire at the end of this season, has had a lot of memorable moments throughout his 40 years at the helm of the Seminoles. Speaking from his hotel in Omaha on Wednesday, Martin said it's difficult to put his latest run in context of those he remembers best, but that it has been made special by the way his players have rallied after nearly missing the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm just telling you, two months ago we were in jail," Martin said while laughing. "We were in San Quentin, baby. We knew that we had to do some things in order to get in the tournament, and we did.
"It was just a display of mental toughness because it obviously takes everybody on the team for us to get better and achieve our goal."
The Seminoles (41-21) were one of the final four at-large teams admitted into this year's field, but have eliminated two national seeds, No. 4 Georgia and No. 13 LSU, to make it back to college baseball's biggest stage. Florida State is the first visiting team to ever win a regional and a super regional at SEC venues in the same year.
Active Coaches with Most CWS Appearances
17 - Mike Martin, Florida State
8 - Dave Van Horn, Arkansas
7 - Mike Fox, North Carolina; Kevin O'Sullivan, Florida
6 - Paul Mainieri, LSU
5 - Dan McDonnell, Louisville; Jim Schlossnagle, TCU
4 - Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt; Brian O'Connor, Virginia; Tim Tadlock, Texas Tech
"I'm so excited, I can't stand it," ESPN cameras caught Martin telling his wife, Carol, after the Seminoles defeated LSU 5-4 in 12 innings last Sunday to win the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
Florida State defeated LSU 6-4 in the first game of the super regional after trailing 4-0 midway through the game. The Seminoles defeated Georgia by scores of 12-3 and 10-1 a week earlier.
The Seminoles will square off with another SEC team, No. 5 Arkansas (46-18), on Saturday at 6 p.m. at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Martin's return to Omaha might be the only story hotter this week than the Razorbacks' return 12 months after an agonizing runner-up finish to Oregon State after Arkansas came one out away from winning the championship.
Martin could somewhat relate. He has won an NCAA-record 2,028 games, but a national championship has eluded him. His teams finished runner-up in Omaha twice, in 1986 and 1999.
Martin's 17th College World Series appearance ties him with Cliff Gustafson of Texas (1968-96) for the most ever by a head coach. Among active head coaches, Arkansas' Dave Van Horn is second with eight appearances.
"I'm happy that he made it back to Omaha in his last year," Van Horn said. "Now we get to play each other. I'm excited to shake his hand."
Van Horn and Martin, whose teams met in super regionals won by Arkansas in 2004 and 2009, have traded compliments through the media all week. Martin said he was impressed with the way Van Horn handled the loss in the national championship series last season.
"Dave Van Horn is what college baseball is all about," Martin said. "He's just a hard-working, class guy that knows the game inside and out, and he treats the coaches like what we really are, a fraternity."
Following the Razorbacks' Game 3 super regional victory over Ole Miss on Monday, Van Horn called Martin "a great coach and a role model" for athletes.
"No one will ever match what he's done," Van Horn said. "Coaches just aren't going to get to coach that long at one place anymore."
Two days prior to the season, Van Horn sent Martin a text message that wished him well on his final season and told Martin of how much Van Horn appreciated his contributions to the college game.
"He just had a nice compliments that he gave to me and I was just taken aback by the surprise," Martin said. "Not many coaches will say the things that he said. It made me feel real good, let's just put it that way."
Van Horn said he is looking forward to seeing Martin this week, but not his team.
"They were preseason ranked top 10 in every poll," Van Horn said. "They have a powerful team."
On Wednesday, Arkansas and Florida State announced Saturday's pitching matchup. The Razorbacks will throw redshirt junior right hander Isaiah Campbell (12-1, 2.26 ERA) against Seminoles sophomore left hander Drew Parrish (8-5, 5.11 ERA).
"From what I'm hearing, Isaiah Campbell is in the top three of all of college baseball," Martin said. "He's got four pitches that are really impressive and he'll not shy away from throwing them at any time. I mean, when you're the Friday night starter and you're going against what's in that league, winning 12 of them, that's pretty tough to beat.
"It's going to be a very challenging night for us. It's a great coup for Dave to get him back."
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