The lights are brighter at TD Ameritrade for the College World Series. Making it to the College World Series is a dream for every single collegiate player and accomplishing the dream is surreal, even for the 2015 Florida Gators, a team that was expected to be there.
“It was like a dream. I’ve been to, like, big league ballparks and stuff and you never expect to actually be walking out onto the field in a place like that,” sophomore shortstop Dalton Guthrie said. “I remember going to the practice that day and we literally just laid in the grass and were like ‘wow, this is pretty cool.’”
That’s not hyperbole. Guthrie and a few of the players actually laid down in the outfield at TD Ameritrade, soaking up a moment that seemed too surreal to actually be true.
“I know before our first game, we were all sitting in the grass just laying there watching the screen. We were pretending to do some stretches but we were just chilling in the outfield,” Guthrie explained. “It was pretty cool. It’s the little things like that that we remember from last year.”
The players should soak it in, junior Pete Alonso says he’ll even give himself time this year to enjoy and bask in the moment but Florida has one invaluable tool in 2016: experience.
There are only eight teams left playing Division I college baseball. Florida, along with Miami and TCU are making return trips from 2015, with rosters full of players who know what to expect. The experience goes further than just playing the games, these guys have all played over 60 games this year, playing the game is the easy part.
“Anytime you go out there for the second time it’s everything,” manager Kevin O’sullivan said. “The hotel, what you do on the day off, practicing at Creighton, the opening day ceremony and what to expect. There is probably a sense of the anxiousness is probably going to be less, but I do think it will help. I think it will help.”
Florida’s opening opponent, Costal Carolina, and UC Santa Barbara are both making their first ever appearances in Omaha. Every team that will play this week is deserving. They’re one of the final eight teams playing for a reason, but the experience Florida has going back to its second consecutive CWS can’t be understated.
“It’s a different feeling going back the second time rather than the first. Last time it was kind of like Omaha was mysterious. I’m excited that most of our team’s been there and we will know what to expect and be ready from pitch No. 1.”
Shore will get the ball to start the tournament. A win for Shore on Sunday would be the 31st of his career, tying a school record. It also gets Florida back into a regular pitching rotation, after skewing it in the Super Regional against Florida State.
This is the biggest stage the 216 players that are on the rosters will have ever played in. There will be nerves, there’s no way around it. There will be mistakes that come from those nerves; these are after all 18-21 year old kids we’re talking about. For Florida, however, there should be less than most of the field they’re up against and that gives them an edge in a very competitive field.
“We obviously know that we came and we prepared this year to have a chance to win a national title; not just make it to Omaha,” Guthrie said. “I think our eyes are set on that and we’re gonna play excited and we’re gonna try everything we can to win it.”
That might mean no grass outfield angles for Guthrie and the Gators this time around.