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June 15, 2012
Omaha, Neb.-- In the midst of a quiet bus departure that came too soon from the 2010 College World Series, FSU head coach Mike Martin had the driver make a quick stop at 1200 Mike Fahey Street.
At the time it was just a construction site, but now its the home of glistening TD Ameritrade Park, which will replaced legendary Rosenblatt Stadium last year.
Martin's message was simple: His club would be back soon and this site is where they would have the chance to attempt to bring FSU its first baseball national title in school history.
And here they are. The task begins on Friday night a 9 p.m. ET against Arizona (43-11).
"Coach Martin gave a great speech about we were going to come back here," said senior James Ramsey, who was then a sophomore. This year marks FSU's third trip to Omaha in the past five seasons. "It didn't work out (last) year but it's real fitting that we do get another chance out in Omaha hopefully to end things for the senior class."
Nothing illustrates the veteran core of the FSU team better than the Seminoles' infield, which returns four players who were on the 2010 CWS team.
Senior third baseman Sherman Johnson and juniors Devon Travis, Justin Gonzalez, and Jayce Boyd have been vital to the Seminoles success this season, turning 62 double plays (tied for 11th most in the country) in 63 games behind the youngest starting rotation in school history.
"I think in our situation, it's no question that the defense is what helped our freshmen get their feet on the ground," Martin said during the CWS opening press conference. "The defensive side is what everybody up here preaches because they know the importance of what one mistake can do to you. That's been a real reason that we've had a little bit of success this year, because we've played good defense. "
In its two-game sweep of Stanford in the Super Regionals, FSU turned six double plays to get out a of a number of crucial jams and keep the Cardinal bats down.
"We hit into more double plays in these two days than we did in 30 games," Stanford head coach Mark Marquess said. "A lot of that has to do with them. Their pitchers were down with their pitches. I thought their third baseman (Johnson) made a couple of great plays (Sunday), and Friday he made some great plays. They did it all."
Travis, whose quick turn at second base alone is worth the price of admission, said that each day in practice that Martin has a special message for each of his infielders with each ping of the fungo bat.
"Every single day when we do ground balls, and we do a lot of them, 11 likes to say 'This ground ball takes us back (to Omaha)' and I think that's something that's really instilled in our heads," Travis said. "Every ground ball hit to me I'm saying 'This ground ball takes us back.' in my head."
Playing together for much of the previous three seasons has allowed the veteran infielders to have a keen sense of where and when the ball will arrive on double plays.
"Getting to build a pretty good chemistry, getting to know where I like the ball, where Justin likes the ball, Sherman knows where I want the ball on double-play feeds," Travis said. "It's special when you can play beside guys that are not only your teammates, but they're honestly your best friends and I think that relationship definitely helps us out."
During last week's Major League Baseball draft all four infielders were selected, marking the first time in school history that the entire infield has been selected in the same draft.
There have been bumps in the road this season for FSU, which has amassed a .969 fielding percentage (No. 88 in country) with 74 errors - 22 of which have been committed by the junior shortstop Gonzalez. Stil,l Martin has complete faith in all four of his infielders when the occasion arises.
"If a ground ball is hit as a coach You're thinking 'OK, is this young man ready to make this?' I looked out there? and said 'hit it to any of them,'" Martin said. "There's no problem. They're wanting the ball hit to them."
Perhaps the most underrated fielder of the bunch is Boyd at first base. This season the junior, who was highest draft pick of the bunch in the sixth round to the New York Mets, has a fielding percentage of .987, committing just seven errors.
Sure he does things that make Martin want to pull out his hair at times, such as attempt a behind the back flip to his closer in ACC Tournament that leads to game-winning Clemson home run and a seat on the bench the following day, but Boyd has developed a second knack for bailing out his fellow infielders on low throws at first base.
"It's just something that he naturally was good at it and he saves us a million times a year," Travis said of Boyd who was converted third baseman for FSU in 2010.
"It just takes a lot of pride," Boyd said. "I just come out here and work on it everyday. Work on throws in the dirt, left and right, high throws, and then you've just go to work on feeding the pitchers and just kind of getting the feel for how they want the ball and how quick they get to the bag and who needs a little more time than others. It takes a lot of work but at the same time a lot of pride."
FSU is hoping that the extra work on the infield dirt pays off this week as it hopes chasing down the elusive national title. Travis said that starting off with a win in the first game on Friday is critical to avoid the loser's bracket.
"It's a Regional and then now it's a Super Regional," he said of the CWS. We always have felt like Regionals are the toughest anyway. Losing that fist game can get you in a ton of trouble. You've got to have arms, and arms, and arms, and it's almost a miracle to come out of that loser's bracket. Definitely this first game is huge, this first game is huge and I think the guy's know that and I think the coaches are doing a good job of stressing how important this first game is."
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