September 22, 2019

Is There Really Gator Baseball?

June 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Coming out of Nationals Park several weeks ago I spied someone decked out in University of Florida garb and I quickly offered up the “Gator Nation” salute–an obscene affair–then jumped up and asked whether he knew how our Gators were doing in the SEC championship game against South Carolina.  After a quick browse through the memory banks, he turned both palms up and shrugged, “I didn’t know they were playing.”

He was thinking why the UofF was playing football in May, because after the January bowl games are over, most SEC sports enthusiasts look to the other great college sport in the south, NASCAR.  Only crazies follow college baseball, though there are regularly three thousand fans in attendance at MeKethan Stadium in Gainesville and there are more each year. Matt Laporta, Brad Wilkerson, Mark Ellis, David Eckstein are all names most people know who are of recent Gator vintage, but the 2010 University of Florida baseball team will probably make them also-rans.

Florida begins the College World Series this weekend ranked #4 in the country behind the University of Virginia that was eliminated in the Regional finals on Monday.  Along with Arizona State, Florida has to be considered one of the favorites despite a lineup that depends to a remarkable extent on freshman talent.  Indeed several years from now the Gators could easily have four players taken in the first or supplemental round of the June amateur draft.

Which is not to discount the senior talent the Gators take to Omaha.  Matt Den Dekker is wicked good in center and Kevin Chapman closes about as well as any college pitcher. They were taken in the fifth and fourth rounds respectively in the most recent draft.  But it is a team led by underclassmen for the most part.  The three freshmen most likely to be first round draft picks are monster DH Austin Maddox and pitcher Hudson Randall and two-way starter Brian Johnson.  The Friday night pitcher is Alex Panteliodis, a sophomore and along with first baseman Preston Tucker, they will go quickly next June.

The Gators face a tough UCLA team in their first game on Saturday night.  Panteliodis will likely be up against the more seasoned ace from Westwood, Rob Rasmussen, taken in the second round by the Marlins.  But the Bruins may lead with Gerrit Cole who will be one of the first names called next June.  Florida has its work cut out for it either way. It will be a classic match of pitching versus hitting.  Can Preston Tucker and Austin Maddox solve the UCLA pitching and can Panteliodis and Chapman keep the Bruins in check until they do?

It will take a win against not only UCLA, but more importantly against cross-state and deeply hated rival, Florida State before baseball dents the front page of the very excellent Gainesville Sun.  The Semi-holes are in the same division with UCLA and Florida and they won the cross-state series during the regular season, so Florida’s path to the finals is a tough one.

Currently the Sun is counting down the top 25 college football teams for 2010.  It is the Florida equivalent of football hot stove–known as “beach reading.” There won’t be any big surprises until they get to the final three, but for my tastes I only hope that next week the copy editors are challenged to figure out what to do with a College World Series finale in which the UofF plays a big role.

Maybe one day in a distant future, if the UofF can win big the next few years in Omaha, fellow alums here in DC will at least know when the team is playing.  Go Gators!!

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