TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The last time we saw Mike Martin in Omaha, Nebraska, it was an unforgettable moment. He was all smiles. Beaming. Giddy, even.
Had the longtime Florida State coach finally won a national championship? No.
Had his team finished runner-up in the College World Series? No.
Had his team just arrived at TD Ameritrade Park to begin the championship series? No, not even that.
Last we saw of Martin on college baseball's big stage, his team had just been eliminated by Arizona in the 2012 College World Series semifinals. He was going home empty-handed for the 15th time in 15 trips with the Noles. Yet there he was shining brighter than a 1,000-watt light bulb.
"I'll tell you exactly how I feel," he said after that 10-3 loss to Arizona. "It's Christmastime. You get to come to Omaha, Nebraska, and experience the week of Christmas with great people. You'll have memories that you'll cherish for the rest of your life. How many guys get to be in the position I'm in right now with these outstanding athletes?"
If you were going to put Martin in a time capsule, that's the Martin you'd use. Always positive. Always upbeat. Always talking in that cornpone style that puts people at ease.
"We're all blessed to still have our health, for one," Martin, now 71 and in his 36th year as the Seminoles' coach, said last week in his office. "And secondly, we all have a university that is so supportive of what you are trying to do as a coach. And I think all of us have an ability to understand the game and understand youth. We also are smart enough to stick to our principles and know this is the way you did it 25 years ago and it was successful, so don't change now."
Success is an understatement for the man who coached under, then succeeded the venerable Dick Howser as head coach in 1980. Just a glance at the first paragraph of his bio tells you all you need to know about his credentials. He came into the 2015 season with 1,813 wins, 35 consecutive regional appearances and was an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee in 2007.
The man most people know simply as "11" for the uniform number he wears still shows no sign of slowing down the enthusiasm freight train either.
"I think a lot of people will say I have mellowed over the last 35 years," Martin said. "But you have to be yourself. Don't try to be somebody that you aren't or something that you aren't. You have to understand that the game is about the young men. The game is not about you.
"One of the things Dick Howser taught me was patience, because he knew I was never one to have a lot of patience. He was always relaxed and cool. But you have to have patience, because you never know what kind of club you have until you've played 30 or 35 games. If you are not patient during that time, you might lose your team."
The advice has paid off well. Martin has yet to put a team on the field that has won fewer than 43 games a season.
Though he has yet to win that elusive first national title, he still walks with significant amounts of hardware to his name, including eight consecutive ACC Atlantic Division titles and 16 conference championships. But he continually says that the accolades are not the reason he is still in the coaching business.
"I mean, we all have goals in this sport," Martin said. "But I always love it when a guy comes back and says, 'Eleven, I really appreciate the way you got on me when I wasn't doing my job in the classroom,' and then he looks me in the eye and brags about a job he's got or the way he's worked up the ladder to success. That's what still excites me. To see them come here as a boy and leave as a man, that is still truly what I love to get out of the game."
The list of stars to come through Martin's program is just as impressive as his trophy case. He's coached 119 All-ACC talents, 87 All-Americans, hundreds of eventual professional players and just for legend's sake, a Buster Posey or a J.D. Drew thrown in here and there.
"There are so many guys who touch your life and go on to become big league managers, minor league managers and major league players," he said. "And you like to feel like maybe you helped them along the way."
With all the unbridled success he's had at FSU, athletic directors must have taken notice. Though he wouldn't specify, Martin sheepishly hinted that "many" suitors have come calling over the years. But has he ever come really close to being swayed?
"Once," he said, in 2001.
"Vince Dooley [then athletic director at UGA] called me," Martin explained. "Ron Polk had just left Georgia. Coach Dooley called me on the phone and wanted me to come up for an interview. I went home that night and looked at my bride of now 50 years and told her, 'I think he's going to offer me the job.' And like she's done for 50 years, she said, 'Well, we can sell this house no problem.' But then she asked me the question that I'll never forget.
"She said, 'Are you going to be able to turn Vince Dooley down?' So that night I got to thinking, 'They're gonna offer me $100,000 more than I'm making here; they're gonna offer my assistants $50,000 more than they're making here.' But to be honest with you, it was a very easy decision to turn that job down. It really was."
And this is where his Seminole heart shows.
"This is the only job that I have ever really wanted," he said. "This is where I went to school. This is where my family was raised. This is home. And I thank God that I stayed here."
No. 11 is at the dusk of his career on the top step of the Seminoles dugout. He knows this. The wins are still sweet, the losses still hurt, but it's the day-to-day at the ballpark that remains his love and passion. He's an instructor. Not just about the game, but an instructor for life. Despite his wild success, he has been through the ruts of a long season plenty of times. But he has outlasted them all and remains undefeated by the sport's high failure lessons.
Sure, he'll remain diligent in his pursuit of the big brass ring that awaits after the last pitch in Omaha, but he knows there is a bigger picture to his tenure. When he talks of his footprint on the program, he doesn't talk about wins and losses or championships. He talks about relationships, the teaching beyond the X's and O's.
"I want to be remembered as a guy who dealt with his players honestly," he said. "And I want to be looked at in the way I have asked my players with our team saying of 'Do what's right.' I want to be known as a guy who did it the right way."
Then he flashes that same smile he had after that game in Omaha in 2012.
"It's about what you can lend to the young men," he said. "About how they can become better players, better men."