Florida State infielder Ryne Malone recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Malone is one of the top players in the ACC and is a returning sophomore in Tallahassee. After being named to Louisville Slugger's Freshman All-American team in 2004, the Gainesville native was recently one of only fifty-eight players nation-wide named to the 2005 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List. The Seminoles opened the 2005 season with a three-game home series against Charleston Southern last weekend.
RYNE MALONE, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
SCS.com: You were named all-state each of your four seasons at P.K. Yonge High School in Gainesville. The Diamond Club and the Gainesville Sun named you the high school baseball Player of the Year in Florida in 2003. You set the state record with 265 career hits, which also ranks second all-time in the entire nation. You also set at least eight school records, including 158 straight games played. When did you first realize you had a chance to be a great baseball player, and how honored were you to be chosen as the best player in a talent-rich state like Florida?
Malone: "First of all, being even mentioned in the same breath with some of the greatest players that have played in the state of Florida is an incredible honor. What I accomplished in high school all goes back to the fact that I was given the opportunity early on in my career to succeed. I had excellent coaching and was surrounded by great people who loved the game as much as I did."
SCS.com: You are a Gainesville native, so naturally many people had reason to believe you would attend the University of Florida. Coming out of high school, what other colleges did you consider, and why did you decide to attend Florida State?
Malone: "When recruiting began, there were a lot of schools that were in the mix. When it came down to decision time, the choice was between Florida State, Florida, Miami, and Clemson. Choosing Florida State felt like the right choice for me. I knew I was coming into a very good situation here in Tallahassee, and the fact that I was going to be coached by a legend and play in a town that respects baseball more than any town I've ever seen made my decision easier."
SCS.com: Last season was your first year on campus, but you wasted no time making a name for yourself. You started 51 games in 2004 and hit for a .330 average. You slammed a dozen homeruns, had 15 doubles, and compiled a .611 slugging percentage. Following the season, Louisville Slugger named you a Freshman All-American, and the conference chose you to its Second Team All-ACC squad. What was the key to your success as a true freshman in a conference as tough as the ACC, and how honored were you to be compared to some of the top baseball talent from all around the country?
Malone: "I was given the opportunity to play early, and I took advantage of it. I also was helped out by guys like Stephen Drew and Eddy Martinez-Esteve in every aspect of my game. Having great players like them to learn from my freshman year made the game a little easier for me. The recognition for my hard work was wonderful, but like I said, without the other 30 guys on the roster, it would have been a lot harder."
SCS.com: The national recognition is still pouring in as we begin the 2005 college baseball season. You were one of only fifty-eight players nation-wide named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List. That award will be handed out to college baseball's Player of the Year at the conclusion of the season. What does this national exposure mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Malone: "It's an incredible honor to be named to that list with all of the amazing players throughout the country. Everybody on the list deserves everything they get. The exposure is great for me and the school, and with the young squad that we have this year, having the Seminoles' name out there is a good thing."
SCS.com: The ACC Tournament was a memorable event for the Seminoles in 2004. After splitting the first two games of the event, you won two one-run thrillers on Saturday to advance to the championship on Sunday. Georgia Tech was the oppponent, and the Seminoles hammered the Jackets 17-5 to win the Tournament title. Explain the roller coaster ride you guys were on that Saturday when you won two games, both by a score of 8-7, and compare the intensity of postseason baseball to that of the regular season.
Malone: "There really isn't anything like postseason baseball. Winning the ACC, then getting deep into the playoffs was the most fun I've ever had playing the game. The crowds and the intensity is boosted another level because if you lose, there isn't a tomorrow."
SCS.com: After winning the ACC Tournament, FSU went on to host and win the Tallahassee Regional at home. You were then sent to Arkansas for the Super Regional, and the Razorbacks swept the first two games, ending your season earlier than you had hoped. How disappointing was it to come up one step short of the College World Series, and will you and the team use that as a learning experience and motivation for 2005?
Malone: "It was a disapointing time, but as a team last season, we really accomplished a whole lot more than some experts expected. We were young last year, and the freshmen who were on the roster last season now know what it's like to win and lose. We don't want to have that feeling of losing without getting to Omaha again."
SCS.com: The expectations are again high in Tallahassee this season. Four position starters return, as do five pitchers. There is also a talented group of newcomers heading to campus for the new season. FSU has been ranked number eighteen in the nation in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll. How do you and the team deal with the high expectations, and what goals have you set for this season?
Malone: "When you play at Florida State, we always become the biggest game on everybody's schedule, saying that we have a lot to live up to from last season, and we all are up to the challenge."
SCS.com: In 2004, you made starts at three different infield positions: first base, second base, and third base. It looks as if you may have settled into the lineup at first base though. Which position is your favorite, and where do you feel you'll see the most time in the field this season?
Malone: "First base has really become a lot of fun to me. At first, it was just another position, but I've learned the ins and outs, and I am still learning something new about the position everyday. I'll be at first for the majority of the year."
SCS.com: The ACC was already one of the toughest conferences in the country and has gotten even tougher with the recent additions of Miami and Virginia Tech. Talk about conference play and the week in, week out difficulties of facing tough competition every single weekend from the middle of March well into the month of May.
Malone: "Once conference games start, the season really gets going. Knowing that you are going to face the best players in the country on a weekly basis is a lot of fun, and having that competition is what we live for."
SCS.com: Playing at a school like Florida State allows you to visit some of the country's best college ballparks. Last year, you and the Seminoles made trips to places like Arizona State, Minnesota, North Carolina, Florida, Miami, and Clemson. This year's schedule has road trips scheduled to Stetson, Hawaii, Georgia Tech, NC State, and more. Of the places you have visited while at FSU, which two or three stand out the most, and which trip on this year's schedule do you have circled on your calendar?
Malone: "Last year at Arkansas was tremendous. The crowd and the ballpark were extraordinary. There is something about Clemson that I enjoy....that's another unique ballpark. Hawaii should be a lot of fun this year, as I've heard so many stories from the last time the team was out there."
SCS.com: Playing on the road can be interesting, but there is nothing like taking the field in front of the home fans. Dick Howser Stadium is the home for FSU baseball, and the facility has recently undergone a twelve million dollar upgrade. Dick Howser is known as one of the finest facilities in the nation and can seat nearly 7,000 fans. What is the biggest advantage to playing at home, and as a player, do you actually hear or pay attention to the crowd while you are on the field?
Malone: "There is nothing like Howser Stadium in college baseball. What makes it so great is the things people can't see, like the clubhouse and the training facilities. Playing at home is exciting, especially when the Animals of Section B start to get rowdy."
SCS.com: Two of your teammates from a season ago, Stephen Drew and Eddy Martinez-Esteve, were taken in the first two rounds of last spring's MLB Draft. Though you won't be eligible for the Draft until after the 2005 season, have you had a chance to talk with either of those guys (or any other current pro player), and if so, what advice have they given you regarding your current college career and possible future in pro baseball?
Malone: "Stephen and I keep in touch and talk here and there. His pro career hasn't started yet but is about to. Having him last season to learn from was a blessing, and when it comes to advice, he has shared some things with me that I'll keep in the back of my mind down the road."
SCS.com: Your head coach, Mike Martin, has been on campus for 26 years. He has taken the Seminoles to the NCAA Tournament every single season he has been there, and since 1990, no team has more top ten finishes than Florida State's thirteen. Martin is second among active D-I coaches in terms of winning percentage, and he is number seven in the history of the NCAA for career coaching victories. What makes Coach Martin such a success, and how is he able to continually get top baseball talent on campus in Tallahassee?
Malone: "11 (Coach Martin) is all about consistency. His teams over the last 15 years have been the best, and now that I'm a part of the Florida State tradition, I couldn't ask for more. His success is based on his passion for the game. He loves it more than anyone I've ever seen, and when your head coach bleeds garnet and gold, that's a good combination."
SCS.com: What is your favorite memory from your baseball career, whether it be little league, high school, or college?
Malone: "Winning the ACC title last season. And my senior season (in high school), I broke my nose in the third inning of a game, then came back with tissue stuck up my nose and hit a homerun in the 7th."
SCS.com: Many athletes have role models that guide their athletic and personal lives. Who is one person you look up to on the field and one person you admire off the field?
Malone: "Mark Grace is a player that I've always admired for his hard work and dedication to baseball. Off the field, I don't believe there has been a better man than my grandfather. I look up to him when it comes to everything, and he is someone that is very special to me."
SCS.com: What are a few things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Malone: "When I have spare time, I'm watching SportsCenter or doing homework."
SCS.com: If a young baseball player was reading this and aspired to become successful in the sport, what advice would you give them?
Malone: "Play the game because you love it. Whether you have the talent or not, you can make it a long way by loving the game and having a passion for what you do."
SCS.com would again like to thank Florida State's Ryne Malone for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Seminoles the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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