College Sports

College baseball’s coaching king is from Charlotte. He’s also a real-life hero.

Florida State’s Mike Martin, who attended Garinger High and Wingate, is poised to become college baseball’s all-time winningest coach.
Florida State’s Mike Martin, who attended Garinger High and Wingate, is poised to become college baseball’s all-time winningest coach. AP

Sometime in the next week – probably this weekend – Florida State’s Mike Martin will become college baseball’s all-time winningest coach.

Martin enters the weekend with 1,975 victories, the same as the late Augie Garrido, whose 48-year coaching career ended in 2016 at Texas.

Martin, 74, is in his 39th season as head coach of the Seminoles, who begin a three-game series Saturday at ACC Atlantic Division-leading Clemson.

If you follow college baseball, you probably know that Martin coached a number of great players who went on to the major leagues, or that his teams have reached the NCAA Tournament 38 straight years, or that he’s been named a conference coach of the year 13 times.

But did you know that Martin grew up in Charlotte, and that his baseball career included a stop at a local college? Or that he nearly became a basketball coach?

Here are five things you might not know about Mike Martin, who was inducted Friday night into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

The Charlotte ties

Martin grew up in Charlotte, in a house not far from where Bojangles’ Coliseum now stands. The family home is gone, but friends still remember the speedster who starred in baseball and basketball at Garinger High.

Martin stays in touch with his high school coach, Al Widenhouse, who still lives in Charlotte.

“There are many great memories from my time in that great state,” Martin said earlier this year.

Widenhouse, now in his early 80s, says he actually coached Martin in basketball. Garinger’s baseball coach was the late Joe Tomanchek, a legend in North Carolina coaching circles.

“He was an athlete, and he was a winner,” Widenhouse recalls. “He had a strange two-handed jump shot, but it worked. I built the offense around him.”

Did you see coaching potential in him? “No, I didn’t,” Widenhouse answers with a laugh. “Not at that time.”

Off to college

Martin left home for the first time to attend college – going all the way to Wingate Junior College, about 30 miles east of Charlotte. A center fielder, he was an all-conference selection in 1963 and ‘64 and a National Junior College All-American in 1964.

“He was fast,” his college coach, the late Ron Christopher, said in an interview about 20 years ago. “He was an excellent fielder, and he really understood the game.”

Martin is a member of Wingate’s athletic hall of fame and visited the school as recently as 2004, when he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award. At the time, he talked about riding in Wingate’s team bus, nicknamed the “Blue Goose,” to games in the mountains.

“It gives me appreciation (about modern travel),” he said.

A basketball coach?

Martin played basketball at Wingate but concentrated on baseball after transferring to Florida State, where he graduated in 1966. He played professional ball in the minor leagues for a few years, then moved to coaching in the late 1960s.

His first fulltime coaching job? As basketball coach at Godby High in Tallahassee, Fla.

“The baseball coach at Godby, Rick Smith, went on to have a long career coaching in college football,” says Wayne Hogan, executive director of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and a former Godby High student. “And Mike Martin becomes a baseball coach. Isn’t that strange?”

An assistant’s job came open at Florida State in 1974, and Martin was hired. He became head coach in 1980. The rest is history.

A real-life hero

In 2001, the man driving the Florida State team bus at the San Francisco airport suffered a fatal heart attack. Martin and assistant coach Chip Baker jumped from their seats and took control of the wheel, avoiding a wreck.

Fiercely competitive

OK, so this one’s not surprising. Martin loves to win, whether it’s baseball or golf (he shoots in the 80s). But here’s a good story, relayed by Hogan, a former Florida State sports information employee who worked with the baseball program.

At one point in the 1970s, when Martin was an assistant coach, head coach Woody Woodward invited Martin and wife, Carol, (they’ve now been married 54 years) to Woodward’s house for dinner. Woodward showed Martin a horseshoe pit he’d built in the backyard, Martin mentioned he’d played the game “a bit” as a youth in Charlotte, and the two began a game, for money.

“An hour or two later, Woodward owed his assistant – who was far more accomplished at the sport than he’d let on – a tidy sum of money,” Hogan recalls. A few weeks later, when Martin returned to the head coach’s home for dinner, Martin wandered into the backyard.

“He was shocked to find a beautifully manicured flower bed where the horseshoe pit had been,” Hogan says.