TAMPA, Fla. — The Jameis Winston sideshow made its way to Tampa.
Florida State faced the New York Yankees in an exhibition game on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. During the Yankees’ first live action of the preseason, it was not the New York faithful that filled the stadium. The crowd of 7,708 consisted of mostly FSU fans, and it was clear who they were on hand to see.
“All these fans come to see (Winston) play, and it just means more fans for all of us,” said FSU outfielder DJ Stewart, who was drafted by the Yankees out of high school. “It’s like, ‘Is this really happening?’ The Yankees are such a historic franchise. It’s awesome.”
Florida State (6-0) fell to New York 8-3. The game is part of FSU’s 56-game regular-season schedule, but it does not count against the team’s official record or statistics.
Winston did not pitch because his arm was slightly “tender” after throwing Saturday, according to FSU coach Mike Martin. Winston went 0 for 2 and easily drew the largest cheers of the day each time he was up to bat, even on a broken-bat foul tip.
“There’s no doubt that his popularity is beyond anything that we’ve had in our program,” Martin said. “I mean, remember, (San Francisco Giants All-Star catcher) Buster Posey did not become Buster Posey until two or three years after he left us. At the same time, you’ve got a guy who is so similar to Buster in the way that he deflects attention to his teammates.
“He doesn’t walk around like he’s the main attraction, like he’s the one everybody came here to see.”
Winston, who guided FSU’s football team to a national championship last football season and won the Heisman Trophy in the process, said the highlight of the day was meeting Yankee players Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, who did not participate in the exhibition contest.
“Guys that I watched growing up, it’s surreal,” Winston said. “It’s probably better than winning the national championship … psych.”
With FSU trailing 5-0, Tampa native Casey Smit got the Seminoles on the board in the sixth inning. Smit brought in three runs on a double to cut New York’s lead to 5-3. The crowd broke out into the Seminoles’ war chant following the rally.
“It’s a one-time thing, an experience I’ll never forget,” Smit said. “With bases loaded, you just really want to hit the ball and come through for your team.”
New York responded by scoring two runs later in the inning, thwarting any momentum FSU established.
“Let’s put it this way: We didn’t expect to win this ball game,” Martin said with a chuckle.
Martin said earlier in the week that the game was more about establishing memories for his players.
Mission accomplished. Stewart was in awe as Jeter, who retires after this season, intently watched the game. Teixeira sat in FSU’s clubhouse to start the game. FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher threw out the opening pitch. And some Seminoles were given bats by Yankees players.
“It was just a very memorable day for all of us,” Martin said. “It was emotional, you might say, for our guys. Because they’ll never forget this. They really had a lot of fun and (Smit’s) three-run double, I’m sure, will turn into a line drive off the center field wall when his grandchildren are told about it.
“It was just a great day for everybody.”