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College | Story | 4/4/2019

Mendoza, FSU eye end of era

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Drew Mendoza (Ken Lanese/FSU Athletics)

Midseason College Honors | College Player Rankings

No one associated with the Florida State baseball program past or present was looking forward to the season when longtime head coach Mike Martin would hang up his No. 11 Seminoles game jersey for the final time.

The 75-year-old Martin announced last year that the 2019 season – his 40th as head coach at his alma mater – would be his last. So while no one was necessarily looking forward to this season-long retirement party, no one was caught off-guard, either.

That has given everyone in the Seminoles family the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kind of sit back, soak it all in and enjoy the moment, including Martin’s current players. If old No. 11 is going to call it a career, their single motivation is making sure he goes out in style.

“Committing here when I was in high school, I knew that ‘11’ would have the chance to retire during my career here,” Florida State junior third baseman Drew Mendoza, a 2015 Perfect Game All-American, told PG during a recent telephone conversation.

“To see that come to fruition is very unique, seeing the way that he’s treated around the conference and around the country when we travel, especially this year. It’s been extremely, extremely special.”

Special, indeed. During his tenure in Tallahassee, Martin has helped the FSU program extend two streaks to almost unimaginable limits: 41 straight seasons with at least 40 wins and 41 straight trips to the NCAA tournament. There have been 15 trips to the College World Series in Omaha – most recently in 2017 – and national runner-up finishes in 1986 and 1999, but a national championship has proved to be elusive.

Which brings us to the present, where a young FSU squad – four freshmen started at least 24 of its first 27 games – will follow the leadership of proven veterans like Mendoza, senior second baseman Mike Salvatore and junior outfielder J.C. Flowers to what they hope is a 42nd straight NCAA berth. And they’ll do it the “Mike Martin Way.”

“I only know how to approach it one way and that’s the way I’ve tried to do it for 39 years and I’m not going to change,” he told PG recently. “Nothing comes before the players and we’re going to do everything we can to put ourselves in a position to win some games; we can’t be satisfied with anything less than that.

“Our guys have worked extremely hard all year,” he added, “and they’re doing an awful lot to improve on a daily basis. If I tried to kick back and say that this is the so-called swan song and I’m not worried about anything, I would be lying to you because that’s not the way we’re made up.”

The “swan song” hasn’t been without a couple of sour notes here and there as the season reaches the halfway point. The ‘Noles dropped 2-of-3 to Boston College in Tallahassee last weekend and with a 6-9 mark in their last 15 games fell to 18-9 overall and 6-6 in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Atlantic Division play; they also dropped out of the PG College Top 25 Rankings.

“As expected, we’ve gone through some growing pains being a young team,” Mendoza said. “I think we’ve matured a lot so far through the ups and downs and our record reflects our performance for the most part. I think there are a couple of (wins) we could have snagged, as well, but it is what it is and up to this point I think it’s helped us learn a lot.”

A pair of 2017 PG All-Americans – outfielder Elijah Cabell and shortstop Nander De Sedas – are among the four freshmen in the Seminoles’ every day lineup and they’re joined most games by outfielder/designated hitter Robby Martin and catcher Matheu Nelson; sophomore outfielder Reese Albert has 18 starts under his belt.

Martin told PG that he and his assistant coaches, including his son Mike Martin Jr., have been mostly pleased with the way the youngsters have handled the majority of the on-field situations that arise but also admits the staff as a whole has been slow to understand just how young this team is. They don’t expect their freshman to be perfect, of course, but the mistakes are just too frequent.

“It just seems that so many of the nuances of baseball are occurring and we’re not prepared, and it’s nobody’s fault but mine,” Martin said humbly. “We’ve got to continue to work on taking advantage of certain situations and not make the other team feel so good about themselves.”

 

… … …


NINE PLAYERS OCCUPYING SPOTS ON THE 2019 FLORIDA STATE ROSTER
were drafted out of their respective high schools but chose to fulfill their college commitment instead. It’s a number that includes two of the Seminoles’ three weekend starters in sophomore right-hander CJ Van Eyk (Mets, 19th Rnd, 2017) and sophomore left-hander Shane Drohan (Phillies, 23rd Rnd, 2017).

The senior Salvatore (Reds, 15th Rnd, 2015), the junior Flowers (Reds, 18th Rnd, 2016) and the freshmen Cabell (Marlins, 14th Rnd, 2018), De Sedas (Marlins, 29th Rnd, 2018), Martin (Marlins, 37th Rnd, 2018) and Nelson (Phillies, 39th, 2018) were also drafted but didn’t sign.

The Detroit Tigers selected the highly ranked and regarded Mendoza in the 36th round of the  of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Lake Minneola (Fla.) High School but Mendoza didn’t sign with the Tigers, deciding instead to honor his commitment to FSU; he’s never looked back.

“More than anything else it’s been a maturing experience,” he said of his time in Tallahassee. “Both in the classroom and on the field, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be or a better coaching staff and a team to be around. So far, it’s been the greatest three years of my life and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it with the amount of winning that we do and the quality of education that I’ve been able to get.”

Mendoza graduated from Lake Minneola HS in Minneola, Fla., in 2016 and PG ranked him as one of the top overall national prospects in his class (he was also a standout basketball player). He participated in more than 20 PG events during his high school years, most of them PG WWBA tournaments as part of the Orlando Scorpions organization and earned seven all-tournament citations.

He was a member of the Orlando Scorpions Prime outfit that won the championship at the 2015 17u Perfect Game World Series played in Goodyear, Ariz.

“The level of competition during the summers playing travel ball, it really prepared me for the grind of the ACC,” Mendoza said. “The amount of games that we played in the summer compared to what we’re doing now, I think that definitely helped with the transition a lot into college baseball.”

Thanks to his outstanding play at Lake Minneola HS and at PG tournaments as an underclassman, Mendoza received invitations to the 2014 PG Junior National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., the 2015 PG National Showcase in Fort Myers and, finally, to the 2015 PG All-American Classic in San Diego.

The four days he got to spend in San Diego for the Classic remain the highlight of his PG experiences if for no other reason than he knew he was being rewarded for his accomplishments up to that point. But he also cherishes the friendships he made with other top prospects from states coast-to-coast and has stayed in touch with quite a few of them.

“They’re playing around the country in college baseball or in the minor leagues and it’s really cool to keep up with those guys and see where everybody’s careers are taking them,” Mendoza said. “I’m very grateful for that event.”

It’s noteworthy that Mendoza was listed at 6-foot-4, 215-pounds in the official 2015 PG All-American Classic program. Nearly four years later he is now listed at 6-foot-5, 230-pounds, an increase that hasn’t escaped the eyes of the scouting community. In a college prospects report published here late last month, a PG scout wrote:

“The left-handed slugger has an immense frame he’s filled out significantly since his high school days. Many scouts projected massive raw power in Mendoza’s future and he appears to have fulfilled that and (during a recent BP) he was effortlessly crushing balls deep to the pull side, grading out with plus-plus raw power.”

His numbers through 27 games this season are fairly consistent with those he posted the last two years. He was hitting .272 with eight home runs, 23 RBI, a .455 on-base percentage and a .598 slugging percentage; the on-base and slugging figures are team-highs.

“This coaching staff has helped me, more than anything else, understand how to play the game, even more than just the technicalities, the swing mechanics and defensive things,” Mendoza said. “It’s understanding how to play the game and how to win has really been the most important developmental part of it for me.”

Added Coach Martin: “Drew has been there and certainly he can pass along encouragement to his teammates.”

Robby Martin was slashing .333/.391/.490, Salvatore .315/.423/.500 and Flowers .280/.407/.516. Martin had 13 extra-base hits with a team-high 29 RBI; Salvatore three bombs and 26 ribbies; Flowers is at 5-22; De Sedas 3-19 and Cabell 6-17.

On the pitching side, Drohan is 2-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched; Flowers is yet to allow an earned run, has struck-out 10 and picked-up five saves in eight appearances and 8 2/3 innings as the team’s closer.

… … …


WHEN FLORIDA STATE BEAT VIRGINIA TECH 5-2 AT DICK HOWSER STADIUM
in Tallahassee on March 9, Mike Martin had achieved yet another almost incomprehensible milestone: 2,000 victories at one school.

In reflecting on that number and all the others that fill his resume, Martin considered only one thing: the hundreds and hundreds of players he has become like a second father (grandfather?) to over the past four decades.

The day when something else becomes a higher priority than his players, he told PG emphatically, is the day it can be said he’s done a “horrible job.” For the last 40 years he’s been committed to putting a kids’ education first and baseball second, while giving them every opportunity to improve their lives for the better. “The main thing that we want for all of our athletes is what is best for them,” Martin said.

There’s a good chance that at least Mendoza, Salvatore and Flowers will hear their names called again at this year’s MLB June Amateur Draft and this time head off to pursue professional careers. Mendoza’s name has popped-up in the first-round of a couple of mock drafts found online; junior left-hander Drew Parrish has also been projected as an early round pick in June

“I really think that’s something to put on the back-burner for now,” Mendoza said when asked his feelings on the draft. “My focus is on being able to lead these guys and do the best I can to help us get to the promised land. The draft is an exciting thought but it’s something that for me will come later on; it’s not something that I let myself focus on now.”

The Seminoles’ recent stumbles have left them with little room for error if they hope to reach the promised land in Martin’s final season; there are opportunities, of course, but it will be far from easy.

They have six ACC weekend series remaining – three at home and three on the road – starting with a set at Miami this weekend. A homestand with No. 24 Clemson April 12-14 and the regular-season finale at No. 12 Louisville May 16-18 are also in the offing. Coach Martin likes his guys’ chances because, well, he just really likes his guys.

“This is an outstanding group of guys,” he said. “They’re just a group that enjoys each other, they pal around with each other and encourage one another; it’s a good, talented, caring group of young men. They want very much to have a chance to get to Omaha and they all understand that we’ve got a long way to go.”

Every player on the roster knew coming in that Martin would be stepping down at the end of the season, but Mendoza said that reality did nothing to change the collective mindset. The goal, like every other year, is to win the last game played in Omaha in mid-June.

The older players are using this 56-game regular season and the ACC tournament getting the freshman ready for the NCAA tournament, which at a program like FSU is really all that matters.

“Just understanding that every day is a time to get better and give ourselves a chance to hit our stride in June and give ‘11’ one last run,” Mendoza said. “This team loves to win and we have a lot of competitors throughout our lineup and on our pitching staff, as well.

“I would call our mindset very focused, maybe a little feisty, with a lot of people who more than anything else in the world, they want to win; I think we’ll have a chance to do a lot of that.”

Rewarding Martin with his first national championship in his last year of coaching is the stuff fairy tales are made of, but there’s nothing wrong with believing in a little magic now and then. And whether he’s coaching a team that’s focused, feisty or a combination of the two, Martin can rest assured he’s going out on top.

“Absolutely no regrets,” No. 11 concluded. “I’m thankful to the good Lord that I was able to coach this long at one university. I’m thankful that I was given an opportunity 40 years ago to be a head coach. I’m thankful for the young men that have come through this program because when you see them come in with one of their children … and heck, I’ve coached a few of my former players’ children. It’s really been uplifting to me and my family to be blessed to have a situation like I’ve had.”



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