OMAHA, Neb. — Bethune-Cookman beat the Florida Gators 6-2 to force a game seven in the Gainesville Regional. It was the first time the Wildcats had beat Florida in 32 games.
Behind the scenes student manager Zach Cronin got an idea. With the Florida Gators facing elimination how could the training staff and graduate assistants take some pressure off the team. How could they make the season, heading into its 62nd game, fun again?
Before the final game against Bethune Cookman a new tradition was born. Hit a dinger, douse an assistant.
The idea was Cronin’s but it didn’t take much convincing to get student assistant Anthony “Tony” Mele and head athletic trainer Jon Michelini on board.
Here’s how it goes. Once the starting lineup is posted the trio places the names of the nine starters in a hat and they each draw three names. Those players are assigned to the trainers and if one of your assigned players hits a home run that day, you’re getting an ice bath after.
The best part about it is the players didn’t know about it when it started and they’re left in the dark as to which trainer they’re paired up with from game-to-game.
The game against Bethune-Cookman began and went scoreless for six innings. Nelson Maldonado started things off with a one-out single up the middle and advanced to third when Mike Rivera reached on an error. That brought Austin Langworthy up to the plate.
Langworthy had started his career off fast. He hit a home run on opening weekend, a long blast to right field in his third career game. His second came just seven games later but a broken hamate bone in his right hand shelved him for more than a month. Coming back from that injury he had gone through ups and downs but certainly, and understandably, wasn’t hitting the ball with the same kind of power that he was before the injury.
It had been 94 days since Langworthy had hit a home run.
The lefty worked himself into a 3-1 count and sat back on a fastball. He launched it high over the wall in right field, a no-doubter. He flipped his bat, trotted around the bases and celebrated with his teammates. Little did he know, Tony Mele was waiting for him in the dugout.
Michelini approached Langworthy and told him about what the trainers had come up with and Mele was waiting, arms open and a smile on his face, for the freshman.
“I hadn’t had a home run in a while,” Langworthy told Gator Country. “I don’t really know how it started, but it was fun.”
Florida went on to win the game and advance to the Super Regional.
More dingers followed.
Deacon Liput launched a two-run home run to right-center. That ended in a bath for Michelini. Then JJ Schwarz walloped a solo shot to tie the game 6-6. Cronin was waiting for him in the dugout.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen JJ so happy,” Michelini told Gator Country.
All tied up…again.
Third time this game #Gators have come-from-behind to tie it.
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 12, 2017
Schwarz hit another home run in the third game of the Super Regional. It was the first time graduate assistant Aaron Hoeing, who had been with the softball team in Oklahoma City, got his first ice bath.
Another dinger, another dunking.
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) June 13, 2017
“They’re bringing joy into the dugout,” junior catcher Mike Rivera said. “We see that, someone hits a home run and we get excited; someone’s gonna get poured on. Stuff like that. Little things like that make you enjoy it. It’s been fun.”
Not to change the juju, the trainers packed up their new practice and brought it to Omaha. The trainers stayed dry in a 3-0 win over TCU but that wouldn’t last long.
Langworthy struck again, a solo home run in the third that found the left field foul pole. Step up to the plate, Tony Mele, it’s your turn for an ice bath.
Liput followed with a three-run blast in the very next inning and got a running start into his ice bath of Hoeing.
“That was awesome. Our trainers do a phenomenal job of keeping us loose in the dugout,” Liput said after the game. “They’re always having fun and it helps to keep us relaxed in the dugout and remember that it is just a game. No matter how tight the situation you still gotta enjoy it and you still gotta have fun.”
When something works in baseball you stick to it, no matter how nonsensical or strange it may be. As for the trainers, the near 100-degree heat down on the field makes the ice bath feel a little more welcome.
“It feels awesome,” Cronin told Gator Country.
So here’s to bombs and baths, dingers and douses, however you want to say it, just know that the Florida Gators are making baseball fun again.