Just like any team in any sport, you try to avoid the injury bug. But Mike Martin's Seminoles -- a team that pulled together and advanced to the Super Regionals in 2013 -- got bit twice before the season even began.
Now redshirt senior shortstop, Justin Gonzalez, suffered a season-ending injury to his right hip after playing just five games in the 2013 season. During those five games, Gonzalez managed to hit .278 and collected five hits, three of which were for extra bases -- a triple and two home runs. As one of the senior leaders, it was tough being sidelined for the entire year, but it was also a learning experience for Gonzalez.
"It was definitely a humbling experience," Gonzalez said, "it was a little bittersweet seeing them out there doing so well and having fun and not being able to contribute. But I learned a lot from that experience and hopefully I can contribute like I have in the past and even more so and win a championship. That's our goal."
Gonzalez says he feels as healthy as he's ever felt and will be key as the Seminoles' shortstop. Gonzalez has the potential to hit somewhere around .270 with 10-15 home runs -- with potential to hit more -- and this will be necessary after losing Marcus Davis' bat to last year's draft. If he can minimize the number of strikeouts, which in the past has been high, Gonzalez will bring a lot to this lineup. And more than just having his sure glove in the field, the Seminoles are excited to have his leadership back on the field, too. His rehab process was long and difficult, but he believes it has made him stronger and more appreciative.
"When you are preparing for a season, you always want to set goals and reach them," Gonzalez said, "It can get kind of monotonous, like rehab was. A lot of times during rehab you can get down on yourself. Can I come back? That tests your character and translates over to the season. It's been a long road and I've been waiting a long time to get here, and now we're just three weeks away. Opening day is going to feel like freshman year all over again."
While Gonzalez was a huge loss during the 2013 season, he wasn't the only one. Now redshirt sophomore, Mike Compton, had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, sidelining the young righty following a freshman all-american season in 2012. Compton will be a part of a premiere weekend rotation also including Luke Weaver and Brandon Leibrandt in 2014 as the Seminoles gear up for a repeat appearance in the College World Series.
During Compton's freshman year, he posted a 12-2 record with a 2.87 ERA in only 18 starts, and tied the record for wins as a freshman. During the 91 innings that Compton worked on the mound in 2012, he managed 64 strikeouts and held opponents to a .260 batting average. His teammates refer to him as an artist on the mound that paints corners and causes confusion. But he's just excited to be healthy again, and even mroe excited to get back on the mound.
"I feel better than ever now that rehab is over," Compton said. "The support from my teammates, coaches, Dr. Jordan and our trainers has been amazing. But I'm just ready to get back out there and play some baseball. It's been a long road. Five days a week of grueling rehab is tough because you go out there every day but the progress is minimal. But once your rehab is through, you then realize what all the hard work was for."
It has been said in the past that players can come back stronger than ever after Tommy John surgery, but we'll have to wait and see on Compton's case. One thing is for sure, in a game like baseball and for a starting pitcher, the mental aspect is crucial, and I believe this experience has made him even stronger in that aspect. Compton's rehab process was long and strenuous, but it seems to have paid off, according to coaches and teammates.
"I'm just ready for the season to start so I don't have to hit against him anymore," DJ Stewart said. "The guy is so hard to hit because he never misses his spot. I love hitting inside fastballs, but Mike finds the perfect spot where I can't even get to it. He's so good."
As Mike Martin enters his 34th season as the head coach of the Florida State baseball team, he couldn't be happier to have these two guys back in the picture. With Compton lined up to most-likely be the Sunday starter, Martin knows that his Noles will be in great shape to pull out a win anytime the redshirt sophomore takes the mound. But Gonzalez and his leadership is something that the 34-year veteran knows will be necessary if this team wants to reach their goal of a national championship.
"Can't express to you how much his leadership means," Martin said. "Every day he comes out here, and I mean this, he reminds me of Buster. Same guy; no matter if he's 0-4 or makes an error, he wants the next ground ball hit to him - not intimidated by any surroundings. And yet, the leadership is always there."
As the Seminoles embark on their 2014 season with some question marks about who will be playing where, these spots are filled, there aren't any questions about these two.