Sophomore left fielder D.J. Stewart arrived at Dick Howser Stadium on Thursday with a spring in his step. Nevermind his sprained ankle, which he's still recovering from, or the rain in Tallahassee. From here on, all No. 6 Florida State (33-1, 17-7 ACC) has to worry about is baseball.
"I can just see faces that are brighter than they've been all year long because there's no pressure of academics," FSU head coach Mike Martin said. "I see a couple of guys that needed to make decisions in their life and they did by doing what they're supposed to do in the classroom and having success. I see guys that know that they can sleep a little later now and get up and go play baseball, and we're very excited about that."
Stewart finished his finals shortly before Thursday's practice. The Seminoles had Monday and Tuesday off, then practiced inside on Wednesday and Thursday because of the weather in Tallahassee.
He said his ankle, while not 100 percent, has improved dramatically this week thanks to the extra rest. That, along with having the spring semester behind him, means he has a lot less to worry about.
"All you do is wake up in the morning, come to the field, have fun with the guys and play baseball," Stewart said. "It's kind of like you're in the big leagues, because you don't have anything to worry about except playing baseball. We're all looking forward to it."
He also has something to look forward to this summer. Stewart was named to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team this week. He tried out for USA Baseball's 17-and-under team while he was in high school and came up short. After that, he made the collegiate team a goal of his.
Martin said he's seen players spend the summer with USA Baseball and return with a renewed sense of confidence, dating all the way back to Mike Fuentes. Pitcher Luke Weaver was with the team last summer, and Martin's relationship with Minnesota coach John Anderson began when Mike Martin Jr. played on the 1993 team while Anderson was coaching. Martin hopes Stewart has a similar experience.
"I'm going to go there and just play my game the way I know how to play and the way I've been taught my entire life," Stewart said. "The best person is going to play, but everyone on that team is really good. I can't be mad if someone on that team is playing instead of me."
This weekend won't necessarily be easy, though. Martin is familiar with the Golden Gophers (22-16, 9-9 Big 10) and Anderson.
"I assure you, this is a very good baseball team," Martin said. "One that will give us all we want, a la Indiana."
Martin Comments on Winston
Sophomore closer Jameis Winston will not practice with the team during his suspension following his citation for shoplifting. Martin said he discussed Winston's punishment with football coach Jimbo Fisher, and the decision to suspend the two-sport star was "very" difficult.
Winston was expected to take a larger role in the bullpen for the Seminoles following the conclusion of spring practice in mid-April. Martin said he was unsure how the suspension would affect that and declined to discuss the situation in-depth.
"Well, I think that's a little too early to say anything," Martin said. "So we're going to just wait until all of this is behind us and at that point I think it's best for me to comment on that."
Winston hasn't addressed the team since his suspension, but Martin said he expects he will when he returns to the team.
"We don't know when he's coming back," Martin said. "He's still got so much that's out there. We as a team need to focus on Friday, Saturday, Sunday's game."
Third Starter Not Set
Martin hasn't decided on who will take over the third spot in the rotation this weekend as Brandon Leibrandt continues to sit out with a bone contusion and Bryant Holtmann is sidelined with a strained left forearm.
Leibrandt opened the season as the No. 2 starter, but has missed the last five starts with the flu and with a bone contusion just below his knee. Holtmann became the Seminoles' Sunday starter after that, but left Sunday's game early after injuring his pitching arm. He's expected to return in about 10 days, Martin said.
Lefty Billy Strode, who has been FSU's midweek starter recently, would be an option. But Martin said he doesn't want to commit to throwing Strode on Sunday when he might be needed earlier in the series.
"I don't know what we're going to do because we're not going to sit there on Friday in an important situation and say 'Billy's going to start on Sunday,'" Martin said. "We're going to trot him out there and if we have to start a freshman that hasn't started a ballgame this year, we're going to do that because every game is important."