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February 27, 2014

Sansone's new swing sets up for success

FSU second baseman John Sansone left school with some homework over the summer last year.

Sansone started 61 of 64 games in 2013 as a freshman, but it was often his glove that kept him in the Seminoles' lineup. He batted just .233 on the year. That was balanced out by 32 RBI and a .379 on-base percentage, but assistant coach Mike Martin Jr. knew he had room for improvement.

"I sent him out to summer ball and said 'This is what I want, this is what I expect when you come back,'" Martin Jr. said. "He went from a dead standstill and he's a fast-twitch guy. When you go from a dead standstill, a lot of times you have a tendency to be way out in front. So I wanted him to load more, to slow himself down a little bit."

He revamped almost his entire swing in the offseason, but the biggest change came from adding a load to it. Sansone spent hours in the batting cages with Martin, tweaking a movement here and there. When he had one section of his new swing ready, he picked up another.

It added up. Through six games so far, Sansone has hit .375 for the No. 2 Seminoles (6-0). That increase hasn't affected his plate discipline -- his on-base percentage has jumped to .615 -- as he's become a weapon in the bottom half of the Florida State lineup. He batted ninth for most of his freshman year, but he's now batting seventh.

"I feel like I contributed a bunch (last year), but my glove definitely kept me in there every game," Sansone said. "This year, it's been both ways. My bat and my glove have been keeping me in there."

Beyond the new swing, there were other changes. Sansone arrived in Tallahassee from New Castle, Penn., and had to adjust to a different level of competition. He went into his second season as a starter with a new level of confidence.

"I feel so much more comfortable this year," Sansone said. "For me, making mistakes from this year to last year, it's so much different because they know what they're going to get from me. I feel like they trust me a lot more than last year."

Those changes were gradual, though. Sansone had days where he felt his new swing was falling apart. He stuck with it, though, trusting Martin's plan for him.

It finally started to come together just before the season began.

"When we came back from the break, he was really swinging it well," Martin Jr. said. "That's when I said 'OK, we've got something.'"

His production so far this season might just be the beginning. He's tied for second on the team in on-base percentage and third on the team with 6 RBI. If he continues at that pace against Miami this weekend, head coach Mike Martin said he might not stay at seventh in the lineup.

"He's not set in that seventh spot right now," Martin said. "Could go to 9th like he did last year, could go to 2nd or 3rd or 4th, who knows? He's playing very well."

He found his role last year, but he's found his swing this year. Even with that improvement, he could still have a long way before he fulfills his potential.

"You want complete players," Martin Jr. said. "Sometimes they come in that way, sometimes they develop into that guy. Somebody from the north, he's behind in at-bats from a lot of people. He's started to catch up."

Martin explains Miami series

The Florida State-Miami series this weekend counts as regular season games for both teams, but because it was scheduled outside of the ACC, it won't count for the conference standings. Martin explained how the series came about:

"The way it fell, we were supposed to skip them this year," he said. "(Miami coach) Jim (Morris) and I got together and said we would play up here this year and down there next year. Then, the rotation would continue (in the ACC). But, here comes Pittsburgh, Louisville and Notre Dame, and all of a sudden, the coaches got together and decided we needed to establish permanent partners. Obviously, Miami and Florida State would become permanent partners. But Miami still agreed to come in here and keep the series going. Credit them for doing that."

When Florida State and Miami didn't appear on each other's schedules for 2014 and 2015, Martin and Morris decided the two teams should play anyway. They agreed on a home-and-home series over those two seasons about a year-and-a-half ago.

"We thought we were going to skip Miami for '14 and '15, so we said 'OK, it's your time to come here, we'll play 14 here, 15 down there,' then we would resume," Martin said. "Well, then those three teams came in. And the schedule changed for '15. Instead of him saying 'Well, I don't have to come up there in '14,' he didn't. 'We'll be there in '14, you come to our place in '15.'"

There was no guarantee the series would happen after it fell out of the rotation, Martin said. But he couldn't imagine a season without it.

"The first game I ever coached as a Florida State head coach came against the University of Miami," he said. "It's a special series. I can remember almost every single series that we've played against them and they've been memorable."

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