So a high school graduate shows up at Florida State coach Mike Martin's baseball camp in August 2006 and asks Martin to watch him play. Martin has 800 to 1,000 campers every summer. Maybe five of them are between high school and college. The camp is not for them. They are the naive, if not the desperate.
Stephen Cardullo had spent his senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., trying to get interest from a Division I team. Then a Division II team. Then a junior college. By August, he had sent in housing deposits to Florida State and Central Florida. He was one weekend away from hanging up his glove and becoming a college student.
"Orientation was the same weekend at both schools," Cardullo said. "Florida State happened to have a baseball camp the same weekend. I said, 'All right, I guess I'm going to go to Florida State because I could try to make the team.'"
Martin has won nearly 1,600 games in 31 seasons as the Seminoles' head coach. He knows a prospect when he sees one. He knows of every good high school player in Florida.
"I didn't even know who Stephen Cardullo was as a senior in high school," Martin said. "He was a kid that came to baseball camp. I had no idea who this kid was."
Cardullo had played fullback at Aquinas. He had played with Sam Young and Marcus Gilbert, offensive linemen who signed with Notre Dame and Florida, respectively.
"He's always been a hard worker," Gilbert said of Cardullo. "On and off the field, he strives. He was always determined to get better and be the greatest player he can be and always try to lead his team to victory. He took everything very seriously and he was always a competitor. Blocking for him was a good thing. He was a tremendous athlete. He could make things happen."
On that August weekend four years ago, Martin saw something. To this day, he's not sure exactly what. On the last day of the camp, he brought Cardullo and his father, Stephen Sr., into the Seminoles' clubhouse.
"I told Stephen that he had earned an opportunity to try out for our team," Martin said. "Stephen didn't hide the tears. They rolled. I looked over at his dad, who could take me and stuff me in that trash can with no problem at all, and he is literally sobbing."
Martin appraised the situation and, on the inside, rolled his eyes.
"I said, 'Man, this guy probably can't play a lick, because I ain't had anybody do this,'" Martin said. "You don't see that! You see people that want to be a Seminole. But you don't see a grown man and his son both crying because the coach said, 'I'm gon' let you try out.'"
Cardullo made the team. He played a little bit as a freshman, a little bit more as a sophomore. Last year, as a junior, he began the season at first base, hitting seventh. When Florida State lost seven of 10 games in March, Martin came to Cardullo and asked him where he would like to play.
"Shortstop," Cardullo said.
Players move from short to first (think Ernie Banks, Nomar Garciaparra) when they lose a step. Nobody moves in the other direction. But Martin revamped the infield, moving Cardullo and also installing him in the No. 2 hole in the batting order.
The former walk-on, the unknown who begged Martin to keep on him at camp, the guy who moved to shortstop at midseason, finished 2009 as a first-team All-American. Cardullo hit .376 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs in 76 games.
In the record-breaking 37-6 victory over Ohio State that sent Florida State to the super regionals, Cardullo went 7-for-9 with three doubles, a triple, five runs and five RBIs.
This season, Cardullo (.324, 2 HR, 22 RBIs) is hitting third in the lineup for the fifth-ranked Seminoles. All he wanted was a chance.
"I've always been a hard worker," Cardullo said. "My parents instilled a great work ethic in me. I mean, I was just happy to be part of the team. I had to work to stay on the team. And I really didn't care much about playing time. I was just happy to be out there, happy to be getting a chance to play Division I baseball. Every day I worked hard, trying to make the most of it. I ended up being a full-time starter, making my family proud."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.