“One game at a time.” “Nameless, faceless opponent.” Just a few of the politically correct, canned answers that litter the sports pages and sports stories, a safe approach, avoiding controversy and bulletin board material.
The Florida Gators baseball team is ranked No. 1 in the country by every major outlet and following their College World Series run in 2015, Kevin O’Sullivan’s club is expected not only to get back to Omaha, but to bring some hardware home with them.
O’Sullivan has been here before with lofty expectations. He’s led Florida to Omaha four times, including three consecutive years in 2010-2012.
“I don’t want them to feel it’s a win-it-all-or-bust mentality. You can’t go into anything with that type of mentality,” said O’Sullivan. “We’ve got a good team. We’ve got a very difficult schedule. We’ve got a long road ahead of us and I don’t want them to feel they’ve got to do more than they are capable.”
On paper, that was a pretty politically correct answer and O’Sullivan isn’t wrong about the schedule. Florida will play four teams that made it to the College World Series last year. It’s a long, 56 game schedule and every team will be gunning for Florida. What you can’t see on paper is the way O’Sullivan has looked at this team during practice. The confidence he exudes when talking about his players, the cast of characters that makes Florida the favorite to win it all this year. His words may come out politically correct, but his body language lets you know that he thinks this team is special.
The team hears the talk and the projections, but there is no more pressure put on the team than the pressure they put on themselves and the expectations that their head coach holds himself, his coaching staff and his players to.
“Coach has done a great job keeping us grounded,” junior Pete Alonso said. “We don’t pay too much attention to it. Each and every day we come out here and just work to get better to achieve our goals.”
Florida is replacing eight players from the 2015 team, including longtime starters Harrison Bader, Josh Tobias and Richie Martin. The junior class, however, is ready to lead with Alonso, Logan Shore, A.J. Puk, Buddy Reed and Ryan Larson. The sophomore class, including Dalton Guthrie, JJ Schwarz, Pete Alonso and Alex Faedo are veterans now, with major experience.
“You know, a lot of people talk about a sophomore slump, but that’s just a myth,” said Schwarz.
When it comes down to it, the players know that they have a long season ahead of them. They’ll be tested early on when they travel down to Coral Gables to face Miami and the SEC is predictably loaded. The guys hear and read all of the projections for this team but it doesn’t add pressure. They believe they’ve earned the hype that surrounds the 2016 Florida Gators baseball team and they’re just excited to show that it’s not so much hype, as just people understanding how good this team really is.
“I know the expectations are there but we’re preseason No. 1 for a reason. We really don’t need to prove why; it’s there, the talent’s there,” said Alonso. “We’ve been to Omaha. We won the SEC Tournament. We won the regular season SEC Championship. We have all the pieces and people see that.”