This is the year! I can feel it in my bones. This is FINALLY the year when the Florida Gators’ baseball team gets over the proverbial hump and wins the College World Series! How do I know this? Well, I obviously don’t, but we certainly have as good of a chance, if not better, than any other team in the country.
As proof of this, Monday, Baseball America announced its 2012 Preseason All-America Teams. In total, 45 players from across the country were selected on either the first, second or third team. Seven of those 45 were Gators. Junior catcher (and reigning SEC Player of the Year) Mike Zunino and junior utility man Brian Johnson, who plays both first base and pitches for the Gators, were selected as first teamers. Senior outfielder Preston Tucker, junior pitcher Hudson Randall and junior infielder/pitcher Austin Maddox were selected to the second team. And junior shortstop Nolan Fontana and sophomore pitcher Karsten Whitson were selected to the third team. As a comparison, the only other teams that have more than one Preseason All-American are Arizona State (3), Arkansas (3), Stanford (3), Georgia Southern (2) and Texas A&M (2). In fact, the entire rest of the SEC only has five All-Americans combined.
In addition to having the most talented players in the country assembled on one team, the Gators return arguably the best coaching staff as well. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and assistant coaches Brad Weitzel and Craig Bell (who happened to be my high school baseball team’s head coach back in the mid 1990s) return to UF for their fifth-straight season looking to improve on an already impressive resume. Under their tutelage, the Gators have gone 142-58 (.710) in their last three seasons with back-to-back CWS appearances, consecutive SEC Championships, three-straight NCAA Regional crowns and Super Regional appearances, three-straight SEC Eastern Division titles and the league’s tournament championship in 2011. Not bad for a team that often plays third-fiddle on campus to the football and basketball programs.
Unfortunately for the Gators, making it back to Omaha is never easy. In fact, I would argue that winning the CWS is more difficult than winning the BCS Championship and March Madness due to the Regional and Super Regional postseason format of college baseball. And things definitely won’t start out easy for the Gators. Unlike football where we may see the likes of Citadel or Oshkosh State in week one of the regular season, the Gator baseball team starts the season with a three-game series against perennial college baseball powerhouse and preseason top 25 program Cal State Fullerton. Add traditional out-of-conference series’s with Miami and Florida State, plus grueling SEC play which starts mid-March, and you have yourself one heck of a schedule – but one that will certainly get us prepared for the post season.
As someone who has promised to make the trip to Omaha this year should we make it back to the championship game, I am anxiously looking forward to what lies ahead. But instead of thinking about the season-to-be, maybe I should begin looking for plane tickets to Nebraska!