2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Florida Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has his work cut out for him in his sixth season in Gainesville, FL. Ranked No. 13, No. 17 and No. 24 in the various preseason top 25 polls, the Gators are looking up at anywhere from four to six Southeastern Conference foes listed ahead of them.

Right now, the core of the team that achieved three consecutive College World Series appearances is focused on MLB spring training instead of its spring semester at Florida. There are a few returning faces spread out across the diamond, but the Gators will have to find at least multiple new starting pitchers, a new closer and a new way to produce runs without relying so much on the long ball.

O’Sullivan has proven he knows how to identify some of the best young talent in the country. On a Florida team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, he has to develop that talent fast to fill the void left by the nine Gators selected in the 2012 MLB Draft.

Florida opens its 2013 campaign on Friday when it starts a three-game home series against Duke at McKethan Stadium.

Continue Reading » 2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2012 (check out Monday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From crazy occurrences and strange decisions to receiving major awards and being involved in the biggest sports stories of the last 12 months, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

12 » A WACKY YEAR, INDEED
For every major story and exciting moment that occurred in 2012, there were plenty of instances in which Gators fans could not do anything but shake their heads, furrow their brows or shrug their shoulders at something they just saw or heard. Below is a list-within-a-list of the 10 most absurd moments of the year (sorted chronologically). Don’t worry, the rest of these stories are much shorter, so keep reading.

(1) Right in the middle of spring practice on Feb. 17, with coaches raving about team chemistry and noting massive improvement from the previous year, junior safety Matt Elam tweeted out a picture that looks like junior defensive end Dominique Easley riding his scooter inside the Florida football facility and around the Gator Head the players touch before heading out to the field each week. (2) One week after playing his last game as a member of the Gators basketball team, then-senior point guard Erving Walker found himself in trouble with the law when he was charged on March 30 with two misdemeanors for allegedly stealing a taco from a street vendor and evading police in Gainesville, FL. (3) Need a lesson on how to turn off an employer? Veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney went off on an epic Twitter rant on April 12, sending out derogatory statements about his wife and cousin (fellow former Gators star cornerback Lito Sheppard) only to claim three hours later that his account was hacked. (4) What better way to honor your favorite player than to get your hair cut and designed to look like him? That’s what San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez did for forward Matt Bonner. Gonzalez’s hair cut nearly got him suspended from school on May 16, but it also got Bonner’s attention and resulted in a pair of tickets and a meeting at a playoff game. (5) After some rather mundane barbs went back-and-forth between Florida head coach Will Muschamp and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin over the summer, Mayor Nancy Berry of College Station, TX decided to post a comedic video of her poking good-natured fun at the former Texas defensive coordinator on June 1.

(6) Hours after taking home the first NCAA Outdoor Championship in program history on June 10, Gators track & field suffered a serious scare in the air when its plane suffered a cracked windshield at 37,000 feet and underwent a rough landing in Tuscaloosa, AL. The windshield shattered after the plane landed but everyone was OK. (7) How do you answer a quarterback controversy and answer questions about which signal caller is going to start the first game of the season? Start both of them! That’s what Muschamp did on Sept. 1 when sophomores Jacoby Brissett (quarterback) and Jeff Driskel (wide receiver) both came out with the starting offense on its first play from scrimmage against Bowling Green. (8) With Muschamp leading the team, he is sure to find his way on this list at least once per year. In a 13-day span, Muschamp made headlines by being himself. After Florida defeated LSU at home on Dec. 7, he decided to celebrate by crowd surfing over his own players in the locker room. Two weeks later, at halftime against South Carolina, Muschamp vented his frustration about the officiating to Brady Ackerman of the Gator Radio Network. He saw an official walking by as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms and made sure to make it known how upset he was at some of the calls in the first half. “Well, we just gotta continue to capitalize on what we’re doing and OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD!” (9) With ESPN’s College GameDay in Gainesville for the South Carolina game, having former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte on set as the guest picker was an easy and obvious decision for the network. Never did ESPN guess that he would find difficulty in reading off the list of picks provided for him. (10) Why is Chad Johnson in Gainesville … and why is he meeting with Florida? Those were questions fans asked on Nov. 2 when it was revealed that the NFL free agent wide receiver – fresh off being embarrassed on national television when he was cut by the Miami Dolphins after being arrested for allegedly hitting his wife – had shown up in town and was taking pictures with players on the team one day before UF took on Missouri.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FOUR BITS: Johnson, Macklin, Pouncey, Foley

1 » Former Florida Gators left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson, a first round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, took a line drive to the face on Saturday while pitching during the Futures at Fenway doubleheader that showcased the team’s minor leaguers. The organization announced shortly after he arrived at the hospital that Johnson has multiple orbital bone fractures on the left side of his face but neither suffered a concussion nor lost consciousness. Eye-witness reports noted that Johnson waved to the crowd when he was carted off the field. Boston’s Short-Season A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners, posted a Facebook update on Sunday that said he “popped by the park today after leaving the hospital and is in good spirits.” Fellow former Gators pitcher Tommy Toledo took a similar line drive to the face on March 14, 2009 during a game against Charleston Southern.

2 » Free agent forward/center Vernon Macklin, who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft but did not receive a qualifying offer from the team following the season, has chosen to sign with Gaziantep of the Turkish Basketball League. “Vernon decided to turn down three NBA camp invites,” agent Greg Nunn told HoopsHype. “He feels he needs to play to showcase his talents and return to the NBA next year.” Macklin averaged 5.9 minutes of action in 23 games last season, registering 2.0 points and 1.5 rebounds. He was invited to Detroit’s summer league team but not picked up by the organization for the main roster.

3 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey recently answered four questions for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and gave this gem of a reply when asked about taking Bowling at the University of Florida:

“Oh yeah, it went great. It went awesome for me. Passed that one with flying colors. [My average] was terrible. I didn’t really care, I just wanted to play that game. I couldn’t do the spin thing – I’m usually a gutter ball type of guy.”

4 » Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley recently told GatorZone.com that he is pleased with the progress that the football team is making as well as the job that head coach Will Muschamp is doing in year two at the helm of the program.

“I just met with the football staff and I see it building. Like anything, it doesn’t get built overnight. All coaches want that and all fans want that. I get that, but if it’s going to be something substantial, and it’s going to be built to last, it’s got to be built the right way. I see that in terms of what is happening with our team: discipline, the weight room, academically. I see the buy-in from the players. I see the way the staff works. At the end of the day, you’re judged on winning games in any sport, but I see it building to where Gator fans want it to be and where Will wants it to be. I think that’s very exciting. If we’re going to build it, we’re going to build it the right way. Will has said that a thousand times. He’s building a program here and that’s what you want – a program built to last.”

It also would have been extremely interesting to read Foley’s answer to a potential follow-up question (Was the program previously not built the right way?) to that response.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FOUR BITS: Johnson, Jenkins, Walker, Hill

1 » Florida Gators junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson, who has signed a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox after being selected with the No. 31 overall pick in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, was presented with the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award on Saturday night. Johnson became the first player in team history to bring home the award and added yet another honor to the numerous postseason recognitions earned by Gators juniors who will play professionally next season. He finished the 2012 season with an 8-5 record, 3.90 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 90 innings along with a .307 batting average and 41 RBIs.

2 » According to sources close to the team that spoke with Yahoo! Sports’s Jason Cole, the relationship between cornerback Janoris Jenkins and the St. Louis Rams (which selected the first-round talent with a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft) is “off to a rocky start because of a verbal pre-draft agreement” that is not permissible but is also not being honored. One reason why Jenkins has not signed his contract with St. Louis yet, Cole reports, is because head coach Jeff Fisher wants him to be financially advised by Lou Taylor of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group while Jenkins and agent Malik Shareef seem “content” with the management team in place. Pre-draft agreements of this kind are not allowed as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, something that Cole reports both parties are aware of, but what appears to be one looks to be the reason why Jenkins is not yet an official member of the Rams organization.

3 » The No. 6 overall recruit in the class of 2013, five-star power forward Chris Walker (Bonifay, FL) continues to be the apple of Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s eye. Not only is Walker an extremely talented player at a much-needed position for the Gators, he is also a local product and friend of current Florida commit five-star point guard Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL), the No. 7 overall recruit in the country. Walker recently told SLAM Online that he plans to schedule seven visits and make a decision at the end of the summer. “My plan is to commit either right after this summer or towards the beginning of the school year; I’ve always wanted to decide early in the process, to get comfortable and just enjoy my senior year of high school without all the distractions,” he said. Many analysts believe Walker is truly between UF and Kansas; each school has a current teammate of his already committed. “Me and Kasey talk about [playing at Florida together] all the time, and to be honest, I would love to play with him,” Walker said. “Kasey is the truth – he can score, find the open man and create for others. It would be really good to play with him.”

4 » The AAU team that Walker and Hill currently share – the Florida Rams – made headlines on Thursday when it was one of four summer league teams officially banned from NCAA-certified events by the organization. The NCAA announced their ruling after it was determined that the Rams and three other teams had associations with a sports agency called ASM Sports. Though the teams will not be able to participate in events this summer, the players will retain their eligibility and be able to play as long as they join different teams or have their team recreated in a brand new form. Walker and Hill will both be affected by this, and it will be interesting to see if they find a way to remain together and continue playing this summer.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FOUR BITS: Milton-Jones, James, Walker, MLB

1 » Former Florida Gators forward DeLisha Milton-Jones – a two-time WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA All-Star – became just the ninth player in league history to eclipse 5,000 career points after scoring seven in the Los Angeles Sparks 91-75 loss to Tulsa on Tuesday. Currently participating in her 14th WNBA season, Milton-Jones has spent most of her career with Los Angeles after coming out of Florida in 1999. She is a member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and was also named the SEC Player of the Year in 1997.

2 » It was a tough decision for him to make but former Gators running back/returner Brandon James eventually decided to hang up his cleats a few months ago and become a high school football coach. James got the opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for St. Joseph’s High School in St. Augustine, FL when his former youth baseball coach Bernie Packo hired him to join his new staff on April 4. However, following an unforeseen change of events, Packo was fired just 22 days later and James was promoted to head coach by the school administration last Thursday. In an exclusive interview with me published as a feature story on InsidetheGators.com (which you can read for FREE by clicking here), James discussed his decision to turn in his helmet for a whistle and give back to the community that once did so much for him.

3 » The No. 6 player in the country according to Rivals.com and the top remaining target on Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s radar as it pertains to the 2013 recruiting class, five-star power forward Chris Walker had some positive things to say about the Gators when interviewed Tuesday about his recruitment. Walker told Rivals ($) that his top five as of right now is Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville but that one team stands out at this point in time. “I guess you could say that [the Gators] are in the driver’s seat,” he said when asked if UF leads for his services. “I’m still open of course and maybe a few visits could change my mind.” Though he listed a top five, Walker is believed by many to eventually choose Florida and Kansas as his final two schools.

4 » A pair of Gators juniors – left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson and shortstop Nolan Fontana – officially signed their MLB rookie contracts on Tuesday, forgoing their final season of collegiate eligibility to turn pro. The final selection in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox (No. 31 overall), Johnson signed a deal Tuesday worth more than $1.5 million. Fontana, the first pick in the second round of the draft (No. 61 overall), signed his contract with the Houston Astros and reportedly received a little more than his slot value of $875,000. Houston decided that he will report directly to Lexington (Class A), skipping all three short-season leagues that many rookies play in before joining the minors. WEEI Sportsradio out of Boston, MA also reports that Florida junior right-hander and third-round selection Austin Maddox is set to sign with the Red Sox for $350,000, which is $50,000 under his slot allotment of $400,000. It is unknown as of press time where Johnson and Maddox will begin their careers.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Silver Lining: “Failure” is not a dirty word

It appears to be difficult for some to say these words but considering they are neither profane nor mendacious, they will be published right here: Florida baseball failed.

It really is as simple as that.

“Failure” is not a dirty word or an insult to effort. It is a factual result.

When someone or something does not meet a set objective – in the Gators’ case that was bringing home the program’s first national championship (read: title or bust) – they failed in their mission. That’s what happened on Monday – whether you like it or not.

“Failure” a word you use to describe a circumstance such as when the most talented and consensus No. 1-ranked team in the country for the preseason, much of the regular season and heading into the postseason not only gets swept out of the College World Series in two games but also falls short of capturing either their conference regular season or tournament crowns in the same year.

It is how you characterize a season that was supposed to change the shape of the program forever (making national titles an expectation, not an aspiration) but instead provided yet another depressing memory on the sport’s biggest stage.

Florida’s junior class has done a lot of great things for the program, but it did not transform it. UF had advanced to the CWS and lost on numerous occasions before they ever committed to the team. Their challenge was to win the program’s first national championship. That’s not a challenge conquered, it is one that remains unobtained.

None of this is to say the Gators did not have a nice season but since when is success determined in Gainesville, FL by anything other than conference and national titles?

Florida won 47 games this year, swept Florida State and Miami, and was dominant both through their first 21 games (20-1) as well as in Gainesville Regional and Super Regional action (5-0) to earn a spot in the CWS.

But UF also concluded the regular season on a 20-15 stretch, lost the SEC Tournament by imploding in the ninth inning (giving up five runs with a 4-3 lead against Vanderbilt) and had the rug pulled out from under them in their first two CWS games.

Gators fans have seen other teams fail at the mountaintop this athletic season. Florida gymnastics came within 0.075 points of a national title and lacrosse came within two stick checks of one as well. That’s what happens sometimes. One team wins; the rest lose. One succeeds; the rest fail. There are no participation medals at this level.

UF baseball never got the chance to suffer a heartbreaking loss like those two programs. South Carolina owned them in the CWS opener Saturday, and Kent State capitalized on every single opportunity that was presented to them on Monday.

Question head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s decisions over the two games all you want. Would the Gators have maintained their lead against South Carolina if he pulled junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson before he imploded in the fifth inning on Saturday? If he left Johnson in to bat in the top of the ninth with two on and no one out on Monday, would he have hit into a double play or tied/won the game for Florida? What if he went with his ace all season long, junior righty Hudson Randall, in the opening contest – a 9 p.m. night game that he would not have left early due to heat-related symptoms?

Decisions have to be made in sports – in the dugout, on the bench, on the field and on the court. You never know if they’re right or wrong until after you make them and by then it is too late to go back and change your mind.

Give this team credit though: The Gators fought hard until the final pitch of the game.

Florida had their opportunities to save their season on Monday. The Gators had six of nine lead-off hitters get on base including three-straight to end the game but struggled mightily both with runners on the bags and those in scoring position.

UF committed early errors, lost their starter due to a health issue and saw his replacement give up eight hits and throw two wild pitches, the latter of which scored what wound up being the game-deciding run in the fourth inning. Yet Florida’s bullpen was stellar down the stretch and gave the Gators a chance to get back in the game.

Florida was also dealt their share of bad luck in addition to the aforementioned issue with Randall. UF may have been the top-ranked team, but they also found themselves in the toughest bracket and opened the CWS against the two-time defending national champions. The Gators saw home runs fall as fly outs, line drives get caught by diving Golden Flashes and obvious balls get called as strikes at home plate.

But that’s how it goes. Them’s the breaks

Sometimes the ball rockets out of the park; sometimes the wind forces it back a foot. Sometimes the umpire sees a call as clear as day; sometimes you wonder if he’s watching another game entirely. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose.

Sometimes you succeed; sometimes you fail.

That’s how baseball works.

That’s how sports goes.

That’s life.

Tags: , , , ,

Teddy’s Catch: Florida’s worst-case scenario

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster is now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets and has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Florida’s baseball season has ended earlier than anyone expected. While it is a bit disappointing that the Gators did not make a deeper run in the College World Series, it is still an achievement to just get to Omaha, NE and perform against the top teams in the country. While many may be quick to point fingers at players, coaches and umpires, let’s take a deep breath, step back and evaluate the two games UF played before jumping to conclusions. Florida could not buy a break – and sometimes that’s just the way baseball goes – but there are some things that could have been done to help the team get through both games without suffering losses.

In the South Carolina game, UF was cruising along, leading USC midway through the game. Then in the fifth inning, junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson completely lost his usually good control. While that is hard to predict in the middle of the game, it is an easier fix than most people thin…and no, I’m not talking about taking him out of the game. Johnson couldn’t locate his fastball, but his curveball still effective; he could have gone to that and his changeup and hoped to find his fastball later. Instead, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and junior catcher Mike Zunino continued to call fastballs during the inning and Johnson kept serving them up over the middle of the plate. Zunino also stayed put and did not take charge of the situation, heading out to the mound to try and straighten out Johnson. Showing leadership when your pitcher is struggling is key to being a good catcher, and it is something that Zunino usually does with great success.

There are plenty of things to point your finger at throughout that game other than Johnson’s bad fifth inning. The Gators made too many errors, failed to sacrifice bunt runners over, and struggled with the basic catch-and-throw fundamentals they are usually so good at doing. Those things happen in baseball, though usually not all in the same game for the top team in the nation. Sometimes you can’t help those things but that’s not to say that nothing could have been done to give Florida a better chance.

Read the rest of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Florida’s worst-case scenario

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Kent State outlasts No. 1 Florida baseball 5-4, eliminates Gators from 2012 College World Series

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-20) was swept out of the College World Series for the third time in team history after falling 5-4 to the Kent State Golden Flashes (47-19) on Monday in an elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

After losing 7-3 to No. 8 South Carolina on Saturday, Florida fell to Kent State by giving up four unearned runs, committing two errors and missing numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall started on the hill for the Gators but did not last long due to a health scare. Sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford replaced him and picked up the loss despite not being expected to see the mound on Monday.

After suffering some bad luck in the top of the first, things got worse for Florida in the bottom portion of the inning. A throwing error by junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/4, R, BB) allowed Kent State to get a runner on base; he soon came around to score unearned after Randall gave up consecutive singles. There was then a delay in action as Randall (1.0 IP, 2 H, R, K) was spotted breathing heavily on the mound. He was treated for dehydration but remained on the hill to get the final two outs before calling it quits for the day with heat-related symptoms.

A fielding error by Gators freshman third baseman Josh Tobias gave the Golden Flashes life again in the second. Kent State plated their second run of the game three batters later after Tobias was unable to field an infield single and added two more immediately afterward thanks to a pair of singles up the middle. KSU registered four unearned runs on six hits with two errors committed by UF in the first two innings alone.

Florida got one back in the third as junior catcher Mike Zunino plated Tobias from second with a single up the middle, reducing their deficit to 4-1. Tobias (0/3, R) was on base after being hit by a pitch to lead off the inning.

The Gators gave the four-run lead back to the Golden Flashes one inning later, however, after Crawford (3.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R [1 ER], 3 K) threw a pair of wild pitches to allow a runner to score all the way from second.

Despite hitting numerous balls hard early in the contest, Florida had plenty of bad luck go their way as most found the gloves of Kent State defenders. UF was able to cut KSU’s lead down to three runs again in the sixth after a two-out RBI double by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer scored senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, R), who reached base earlier in the frame on a single to left.

The Gators loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh courtesy of a base on balls and a pair of singles. Zunino hit an RBI single to score one run, and junior designated hitter Brian Johnson helped one cross the plate by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play that cut Florida’s deficit to just one run.

Senior left-hander Greg Larson (2.2 IP, 2 H, BB, K) filled in nicely for the Gators but was pulled for junior RHP Austin Maddox (1.1 IP) after placing runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh. Maddox went the rest of the way.

Florida freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon began the eighth with a single, but the Gators ended the frame by stranding two on base after Fontana lofted a ball to short, putting elimination three outs away.

UF began the ninth in similar fashion with senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/3, 2 BB) walking on four-straight pitches, the sixth time that a lead-off runner got on base for Florida in the contest. Zunino (2/4, 2 RBI, BB) followed by also getting on board via four-straight balls (split over two pitchers), and sophomore Cody Dent (0/0) was called upon to pinch hit for Johnson and advance the runners. With one out, the game-tying run 90 feet away and go-ahead run on second, Turgeon (1/5) struck out on two questionable pitches and Shafer (2/5, RBI) hit his first pitch into right to end the game with a fly out.

Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan falls to 3-6 in his three-straight CWS appearances with Florida being swept both in 2010 and 2012; UF’s only two losses in 2011 came in the Championship Series to eventual national champion South Carolina.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 Page 1 of 14  1  2  3  4  5 » ...  Last »