As FSU visits Baton Rouge this weekend, former opponents have memories of Mike Martin

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Mike Martin, Paul Mainieri

Just how long has Mike Martin – who brings his Florida State team to Baton Rouge this weekend for an NCAA super regional matchup with LSU – been the head coach of the Seminoles?

Consider this: Martin replaced Dick Howser as FSU’s head coach before the 1980 season. Skip Bertman left FSU’s biggest rival, Miami, to become LSU’s head coach four years later. Bertman coached the Tigers for 18 years and has been retired from the dugout for another 18.

In the course of amassing an NCAA-record 2,021 victories over 40 years as the Seminoles’ skipper, Martin has crossed paths through Louisiana several times, but since FSU joined the Atlantic Coast Conference prior to the 1991-92 school year, this is FSU’s first venture back to the Bayou State.

Until 1991, the Seminoles were members of the Metro Conference, where it went head-to-head against Tulane for the better part of two decades.

FSU also played, with Miami and Florida, in the inaugural Busch Challenge in the Superdome in February 1987. The three Florida schools returned to the Dome four years later.

The players who faced off against Martin’s teams have plenty of memories.

It’s possible no one ever had a better individual game against a Martin-coached team than former Tulane catcher Eric Lane, who went 4-for-5 with three home runs and seven RBI in the 1982 Metro Conference championship game, lifting the Green Wave to an 11-7 victory over FSU – Martin’s only loss in a Metro title game.

“Believe it or not, I almost didn’t play,” Lane recalled this week from his office in Baton Rouge. “The day before, I slid into third base and had a strawberry on my knee. I started to go to Coach (Joe) Brockhoff and tell him I couldn’t play.”

On the Sunday morning of the title game, assistant coach Mickey Retif took a group of players to church.

“When I went to church with Mickey, I prayed that morning about what to do,” Lane said. “I put (the injury) out of my mind and had the greatest day of my life. Thank God for Mickey asking us to go to church.”

Lane’s first homer went to center field and his second and third went to left.

“Center field was a bomb,” he said. “You had to really hit it. Somebody was in the tree (beyond center field) watching the game and I knocked the guy out of the tree.

“My last at bat (in the eighth inning), the Florida State fans were chanting, ‘Roll him the ball.’ I grounded out to short and there was a loud cheer.”

Lane was a no-doubt choice as the tournament MVP as Tulane reached the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history.

The next year, Lane hit two more home runs against the Seminoles, including a three-run shot to the opposite field in the championship game.

Former Tulane and New York Yankees left-hander Kevin Mmahat recalled that prior to a Metro Tournament game in 1985, Martin challenged him to throw the ball from the top step of the dugout over the outfield fence.

Mmahat’s throw not only cleared the fence, but the scoreboard in left field.

“The next day,” said Mmahat, “he met me at the hotel with a box of Snickers.”

Since Florida State beat LSU in a Monday night, made-for-TV, NCAA Tournament tuneup at the end of the 1986 regular season, neither team has visited the other’s campus. They’ve met nine times in the last 33 years – five at the College World Series, two in the Superdome in the Busch Challenge and once each in Orlando (at the old Boardwalk and Baseball complex) and in Minneapolis (at the now-imploded Metrodome).

LSU’s Gregg Patterson played a part in all three meetings against FSU in 1986 and 1987 – a different time and place in college baseball in terms of how coaches scheduled games and used pitchers.

In 1986, the SEC Tournament concluded eight days before the regional brackets were announced.

“Coach (Bertman) scheduled games against Alabama and then this TV game came up,” Patterson recalled. “We get on a charter flight (to play) on a Monday, and on Thursday, we’re starting a six-team regional.

“Today, no coach would schedule this many games.”

FSU won the 1986 game 6-4 on a walk-off homer by future major leaguer Paul Sorrento, and won the first 1987 meeting 2-1 when Richie Lewis struck out Patterson with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

Except he wasn’t supposed to be at the plate. Bertman had made several lineup changes and Patterson was batting out of turn. The only problem was, neither coach realized it, and Patterson came within inches of a game-winning double.

“My only at bat of 1987,” Patterson said.

The teams would meet again in the opening round of the CWS three months later. Patterson, who developed into LSU’s ace and won two games in the regional at UNO the week prior, took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

“Two strikes, two outs, (Barry) Blackwell hits a homer to tie it 1-1,” Patterson said. “I go back in the dugout and (Bertman) says, ‘That’s it.’

“We scored five runs in the top of the 10th and I said, ‘Coach, I’m going back out there.’ He said, ‘You’ve got one batter.’”

As for the Seminoles? “They always have good teams,” said Patterson. “It’s amazing they’ve never won a national championship.”

“I don’t know (Martin) personally, but he has to be a great man. No one ever says anything bad about him. Obviously, he does it the right way. It’s just amazing a guy can do it for that long and consistently win.”

Lane would ordinarily be at the Box this weekend, but instead will be in Mississippi for his wife’s high school reunion.

“I’m sure Mike Martin might remember me,” said Lane.

Just in case Martin has forgotten the name, he might get a reminder when the Seminoles pull up to Alex Box Stadium and pass the Gerry Lane Championship Plaza, named for Eric Lane’s late father.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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