One day after the Wolfpack battled against the Tar Heels in the first round of the 2013 College World Series, Crouse resident and former starting right fielder for North Carolina State University, Steve Martin, reminisced about his days playing in the school’s inaugural trip to the competition more than 40 years ago.
While several of the players from the 1968 team traveled to Omaha, Neb., over the weekend to see the Sunday matchup against the two North Carolina teams, the fourth time this season the two squads have contested against one another, Martin’s health prevented him from making the trip.
However, he said friends still flocked to his house where he kept his eyes focused on the television, watching the intense game.
Since freshman weren’t allowed on the university’s team during the 1960s, Martin joined the Wolfpack squad his sophomore year.
At the time, every player on the team stemmed from North Carolina, he said, forming a unique bond among the men.
The team not only went on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in 1968, a game Martin said they played in Gastonia, but also proved victorious over Florida State in the Southeastern District Playoffs.
While the Wolfpack’s 1968 band of baseball brothers didn’t win the World Series, they secured a third-place finish, falling to that year’s series champions, Southern California, Martin said.
During the competition, N.C. State also battled teams from University of Texas, Southern Illinois and St. Johns.
During Martin’s college career, he received a coveted spot on the All-American second string team since he was considered one of the nation’s top six college outfielders.
Only three other N.C. State athletes had received the honorable All-American title before him, according to an archived Times-News article.
A Lincoln County resident for the last 37 years, Martin was practically born with a baseball in his hand, taking time since the age of six to practice the sport nearly every day when he wasn’t working in the tobacco fields of Stokes County, where he was raised.
“You got to play every day if you want to be good,” he said.
Because his dad was disabled, Martin often threw balls and played catch with his mother on the family farm.
He revealed the Brooklyn Dodgers, now the Los Angeles Dodgers, was his favorite childhood team and that he always looked up to players like Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider along with former New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle.
Martin also kept a stout collection of baseball cards.
While he claimed he could have gone pro and signed with a major league team right out of high school, his parents encouraged him to attend college, where his forte for baseball earned him a place in the school’s Hall of Fame in 2010.
Even though he suffered a torn Achilles tendon only four games into his senior year, he joined a semi-pro team after college and traveled the country.
Following a few years of semi-pro, Martin traded in his cleats and baseball uniform for the green, taking on golf instead.
He noted how baseball is so different from a majority of other sports because it requires multiple talents and skills — running, catching, playing the field — rather than just one.
Although four-and-a-half decades have passed since the 1968 squad last united on a dirt mound and diamond field, they still try to gather for yearly reunions.