OMAHA, Neb. — The Florida Gators baseball team is normally a clean-shaven group of players.
Junior pitcher Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.95 ERA) has grown one of the fuller beards after he and his teammates decided to quit shaving as a unifying act.
“I think all of us had a little say into it,” Panteliodis said. “We do everything as a team. We all said ‘let’s get some kind of playoff beard going.’ Some people that can’t grow beards are getting moustaches, some have just a goatee, which is really nice. It’s team bonding. We’re all really happy. We’re all just going to stick with it until we’re not playing anymore.”
Some players have had more success than others.
“Ben McMahan had to best beard, but he trimmed it down,” Panteliodis said. “It’s alright though, he still has one going. It’s not bad luck, he never trimmed the whole thing off. It’s all good.”
Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan might not keep the same grooming standards for his players that former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner did, but he has allowed his players to grow facial hair during their run to the College World Series.
“The coaches have that clean-shaved ballplayer persona,” Panteliodis said. “That’s how all of us normally are, but we did this as a team decision. Sully was alright with it and we’re just going to stay with it and not change anything up.”
The beards first appeared during the SEC Tournament. The Gators captured the tournament championship game, so any notions to shaving were tossed aside.
“We’re not changing anything up,” Panteliodis said. “Everyone wants to stay the same, play the same. It’s just camaraderie as a team. Nobody’s changing anything.”
A playoff beard can serve other functions as a team bonding effort or an attempt to intimidate opponents. They help to keep the players focused on their championship goals.
“Everyone’s beard is itching now, but everything you go to rub it you’re thinking about how there’s something that you’re trying to complete, there’s something you have to do out here,” Panteliodis said. “As long as we all keep it going, we know what the task at hand is.”
Panteliodis has started the last three games he appeared in, including the SEC Tournament championship game against Vanderbilt, tallying a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings during the NCAA Tournament.
He is expected to be the Gators’ third or fourth starter for the CWS, but knows he could be called upon out of the bullpen. Panteliodis started the Gators’ final game of the 2010 CWS, a 11-3 loss to UCLA in which he pitched 3.1 innings and allowed four earned runs and five hits.
“When my name gets called I’ll be happy,” Panteliodis said. “A bunch of us have some unfinished business to take care of. After last year’s two-and-out, we weren’t really fond of it. We feel better as a team this year and we’re just glad to be back. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the line and take what we can get.”
If all goes to plan, the Gators hope to be confused for ZZ Top.