MCWS 2024:The defining stories of FSU's Link Jarrett

FSU defeats UConn in extras to advance to College World Series (0:51)

Connor Whittaker picks up the strikeout to seal FSU's win over UConn and celebrates as Seminoles advance to the College World Series. (0:51)

OMAHA, Nebraska -- Link Jarrett is sitting in the lobby at the Embassy Suites in Omaha, fidgeting with his hat and trying to explain that he is not really as intense as he seems -- at least not always. A guy who handles his media obligations has already checked in at Jarrett's table, armed with an excuse to pull him away from the interview if he wants to leave. Jarrett, after all, is a busy man this week. His Florida State Seminoles are back in the Men's College World Series.

But Jarrett wants to keep going. He is talking about baseball, life and juvenile trespassing, and how it all fits into where he is now.

It's Thursday afternoon, a day before Florida State watched a three-run ninth-inning lead evaporate in a 12-11 loss to No. 1 Tennessee, and Jarrett's life is cluttered with emotional twists and turns.

He's the coach who left a beloved gig at Notre Dame to come home to his alma mater two years ago, only to be the first skipper in 76 years to fail to post a winning season. He's also the guy who has the Seminoles back in the MCWS one year later.

Florida State has made it to Omaha 24 times, and has yet to win the whole thing. It gnaws at Jarrett, to the point in which he relives in-game minutiae from three decades ago, when he was a player for FSU. He thinks about the inches that separated him from fielding a hit up the middle, the instincts that failed him. He thought about it shortly after arriving in Omaha on Wednesday.

"But it's not like I'm possessed by it," Jarrett said. "No, I know it's there. It's not baggage. It's like, are you doing better? What instruction can you give [the infielders] and make sure that you learn from what happened? I have to learn from these things. And then some of the accomplishments, you learn from those, too, and the battles and the tenacity of the kids.

"But when your quest is to do it, you sometimes look like, 'Why didn't I?'"

Florida State is the No. 8 seed, and now needs to win four elimination games for a spot in the championship round, but those who know Jarrett believe it can be done. They know the stories that have defined him.

JARRETT GREW UP two blocks from Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee. When he was about 13, and the Seminoles were away on road trips, he'd climb a fence, sneak into the stadium and field grounders.

He'd go with Dean Palmer, a future MLB player who was three years older. Jarrett would throw a bucket of balls over the fence, and they'd run around the field. One time, when Jarrett was throwing batting practice without a screen, Palmer sent a line drive toward the mound. It shattered the bucket. The boys even had the chutzpah to use the batting cages, that is until FSU put in a new chain and lock.

But Jarrett didn't do it because of the college amenities; he was there because he dreamed of wearing garnet and gold.

"That's all I wanted to do," he said. "I waited and waited, and, you know the recruiting was so much different. You're at a game and you're just hoping in your legion game that somebody showed up, like some coach. It was hard to send VHS tapes to everybody.

"You were just hoping somebody came to see you."

Jarrett, 5-foot-10 and a shade under 160, eventually received offers from Mercer and West Florida, but was still waiting on Florida State. In the summer after his senior year, FSU coach Mike Martin invited him to the baseball offices.

Martin wanted to be realistic with Jarrett, because they'd already signed a junior college player to play shortstop. He told Jarrett that he could come to Florida State but probably wouldn't play.

His father Lincoln, a former FSU player, was a budget policy director for the State of Florida. For 40 years, he rode his bike to work. He also dragged a baseball field with his Volkswagen Rabbit. Lincoln Jarrett kept quiet in that meeting, saying only one thing.

"Coach, he'll play."

Jarrett started four seasons, played in three Men's College World Series and was an All-American. To this day, he still owns the all-time NCAA assists record with 802.

IN THE SPRING of 2023, Martin, the all-time most successful coach in Division I baseball history, was battling Lewy body dementia. But Martin was there for the retirement jersey ceremony of FSU catching legend Buster Posey.

Longtime FSU staffer Chip Baker led Martin out onto the field. When Baker turned and walked away, Martin asked, "Where are you going?"

"Link's here," Baker told Martin. "You're OK."

Jarrett calls Martin, who died in February, a second father figure. Martin taught him to play college baseball and coach college baseball. On a van ride from Charles Schwab Field to the team hotel last week, Jarrett regaled a couple of his players with an impersonation of Martin when his old mentor wanted to make a point.

"If there's one thing you remember," Jarrett said, his country drawl deepening, "It's this."

Jarrett estimated that Martin said it in reference to at least 100 things.

He remembers all of them, and said he can hear Martin's voice in "every different walk of his being."

He made a point to try and spend time with his mentor during his final days.

"Leave nothing on the table," he said. "Some people didn't want to go see him in the last couple of weeks. I did. So when you leave it on the table and people know how you feel, you can move through it. I think it's the unfinished experiences that hold people back the most in those situations. And I saw [his wife] Carol suffering, and I knew how difficult it was."

Florida State has a "tradition room" with a TV that is dedicated to Martin's history. An athlete can push play and hear the story of Martin's life.

Coaches and players called Mike Martin "11" after his uniform number. Two weeks after he died, Florida State opened the 2024 season against Butler on Mike Martin Field. The Seminoles won 11-0.

CHIP BAKER LIKES to take 7 a.m. bike rides, and in 2023, his one year on Jarrett's staff, his phone buzzed a lot in those early morning hours. Baker eventually decided to change his ringtone for Jarrett's number so he wouldn't miss any of his calls or texts.

"From the time he wakes up," Baker said, "to the time his head hits the pillow, it's all about the details."

Jarrett wanted to make sure that during games, the water cooler was in the middle of the dugout so players didn't have to go to the end of the dugout to get water in between innings.

FSU infielders Daniel Cantu and Alex Lodise said Jarrett scripts his practices, sometimes even timing their throwing window.

"He always preaches that we're a machine," Cantu said. "Every little thing has to work and every little detail matters to get this train going and that machine running, and that's how we are. We're programmed to do the task at hand."

Jarrett, who inherited a young team in his first season, turned over almost the entire roster in 2024. Cantu said it was almost easier to mesh with his new team because nearly everyone was in the same boat.

"You're kind of forced to figure it out to learn and meet everyone," Cantu said. "It forces you to create that team chemistry and be around each other as much as possible. Honestly, we created great team chemistry. We're like a family. We love each other, and we cherish playing ball together."

IT'S LATE THURSDAY afternoon, and Jarrett is talking about the six hours of sleep he gets a night -- from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. -- when he stops himself.

"Now you're going to think I'm crazy ... " he said.

"I saw something at practice that I keep going back to. So the next day, I'm so ready to attack it that my director of [baseball] ops [Sean Guite] -- he's from Huntington Beach. I said, 'I want this to be perfect. I want the cages to be perfect, I want the care of the bullpen mounds [to be perfect] ... like it possesses me.

"And he's like, 'Do you ever think it might not be possible for everything to be perfect?' And I was like 'Sean, you're probably right. But the quest for it ... I kind of always find something that lights me up. It focuses you, it keeps you hungry."