Omaha: The goal and the song

Marvin Westwestwords

This is Tony Martin time.

The Tennessee sports fan, professional singer and songwriter, has dusted off a favorite. He is warming up for the peak of college baseball season.

Twenty-five years ago, Tony wrote and sang “Omaha” for an ESPN opening, just in time for the 50th College World Series. The network got a favorable first reaction. ESPN, being ESPN, used it again – and again.

The song says Omaha is a baseball player’s dream … “for 50 years they’ve been playing it here in Omaha” … maybe next year we can win it all.

Tony, 71, probably wasn’t strumming his guitar with his morning coffee but he almost certainly was humming the song. We’ve been talking about it. You better believe he is rooting for the Volunteers. He so hopes they make it through the regionals and on to the main event.

Getting to Omaha is not an easy every-year happening. Tennessee reached the final eight in 1951, 1995, 2001, 2005, 2021 and 2023. First trip was best. The Vols finished runners-up. Sid Hatfield was tournament MVP. Oklahoma won, 3-2.

Baseball is fickle. Tennessee’s wait for a second trip was 44 years. Another Tony, Coach Vitello, has improved the frequency. He has not yet made an impact.

So, do you know Tony Martin? He smiles and says he is not THAT Tony Martin, the original, whose career in the late-1930s through the mid-1950s included “I Love Paris,” “Stranger in Paradise” and “I Get Ideas.”

This Tony is not the Tony of Nashville music fame who hit it big 16 times with Joe Diffie, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban and George Strait.

“I wish.”

This Tony grew up in the Mountain community of South Pittsburg, in the general direction of Chattanooga, not far from Sequatchie Valley. It is home to the National Cornbread Festival and the Lodge Cast Iron Company known for skillets. Just saying.

Tony went pro in music at age 5.

“My grandmother would give me a dime if I would stand up front and sing in church. I was so shy. I wouldn’t look at the congregation.”

Tony says he became a diehard Tennessee fan after listening to John Ward on the Vol Network.

“That was around 1968 when I was 16. John Ward was magic.”

Tony played high school football “until I got caught smoking behind the gym.”

That sin didn’t knock him out of the school talent show.

“Nobody knew I could sing.”

That performance got the attention of a man who was forming a band.

“We didn’t make a lot but we did get paid.”

In 1970 and again in 1971 the group was invited by the Farm Bureau insurance company to participate in its convention in Mobile. Tony ended up living there.

“The weather was great and opportunities were plentiful. We landed a gig doing six nights a week. We played Ken Stabler’s Diamondback Club. I met Snake (former quarterback, Alabama and Oakland Raiders).”

The band made it to Memphis, to the Thunderbird Lounge.

“Jerry Lee Lewis came in often and sat in with us. That was memorable. Jerry Lee said he was really impressed.”

Martin has a photo. And one with George Jones and another with Merle Haggard.

Back in Mobile, he formed his own band, “Plum Loco.”

It became a 10-year fixture at the Blue Jay Lounge. When the Senior Bowl was in town, he met a lot of athletes and coaches.

“Jack Youngblood, Chuck Knox and Bum Phillips come to mind. Met David Cutcliffe and the late, great Ken Donahue and other members of John Major’s staff when they were recruiting a young man I knew, Keith McCants.”

Martin was invited to come along when McCants made an official visit to Tennessee, New Mexico game, September 6, 1985. Of course, Tony remembers. He was in the postgame dressing room. He met Coach Majors.

“Big thrill.”

Tony figures he has written 50 songs that he considers OK to pretty dadgum good – and twice that many that went into the wastebasket. He doesn’t read music but he can play anything on a keyboard.

He can’t make himself write. He has to wait.

“Well, the song “She’s a Mother” just came to me out of thin air, probably Heaven, since all inspiration comes from above, and it came with words and melody. I just started singing the lines. One at a time, they just really write themselves.

“So, it took about 15 minutes, and another 30 probably to change a line or two.”

Now and then, in times past, Tony and Plum Loco ventured to Nashville, to the Hall of Fame Hotel, two weeks at a time. He met country stars and aspiring artists like him.

He toured abroad and sang his country and patriotic songs about being an “American Joe” in European places that needed an interpreter. They loved him in the Netherlands and Sweden. Crowds stood and applauded.

In any language, “The Man You Could Have Been” is loaded with raw emotion. This man can write and sing.

Martin never lost interest in sports. He wrote and recorded a couple of football songs – a tribute to Peyton Manning and “Back on Top” for an Alabama fan with money burning his pocket.

“Peyton Manning, man, do we love you” played on TV during a Tennessee-Alabama game.

The Vol for life still calls that his favorite.

I didn’t ask and Peyton never said but I do believe his NFL checkoff call “Omaha, Omaha” was borrowed from Tony Martin’s baseball song.

“Wow,” said Tony. “You think I was that close to being really famous?”

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is


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