OMAHA, Neb. — In the underbelly of TD Ameritrade Park Kevin O’Sullivan sits between three other coaches, arms folded with a simile and a shiner under his left eye.
“My 4-year-old right in the back, Finn,” O’Sullivan smiled and pointed to his son in the back of the room, who was looking down at a screen, playing a game on his dad’s phone. “He’s playing the game just like the players. How are you doing, buddy?”
O’Sullivan has been through the College World Series pomp, he knows what is expected of him, the media obligations, the competition level, the distractions and pressure for his team. His first trip here back in 2010 ended abruptly. The Gators were clobbered by UCLA 11-3 and sent home by Mike Martin and Florida State 8-5.
The Gators returned the following year with much better results. Florida swept their way to the CWS Finals, beating Texas 8-4, and Vanderbilt twice 3-1 and 6-4. The Gators dropped both finals games to South Carolina, finishing as runners-up.
In the next three trips (2012, 2015, 2016) the Gators put up just a 3-6 record with two and out jobs in 2012 and 2016. All three of those teams are better on paper than the team O’Sullivan has led to the CWS this season.
“We’re a different type of offense this year than we’ve had maybe in years past. We’re more aggressive on the base paths and hit and run a bit more, that type of thing. We just found a way to get it done. It hasn’t been easy — awfully proud of our team.”
His five previous trips have taught him a lot, though. First things first, he’s not looking ahead to the other three teams on his side of the bracket.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is I remember the first couple of years, I came out here, I’d have seven different folders of the teams in the other bracket and this bracket. You kind of get lost in the shuffle there. To be honest with you, there’s only one folder on my desk, and it’s TCU. I haven’t even really looked a whole lot at Louisville or A&M yet.”
Those are things that O’Sullivan himself can change but he’s not the one playing the games. As a manager he can only do so much scouting, game planning and coaching. It’s the players that ultimately will win or lose games and O’Sullivan plans on giving those guys a little more leash this week than in years past.
“First couple years came out, maybe too restrictive. Probably trying to keep too much of a stranglehold on the players and what they were able to do on off days and learn. That’s didn’t work,” O’Sullivan said. “You need to learn, there’s a fine line. They have families out here and girlfriends, and they need to enjoy themselves.”
Florida doesn’t enter this week the favorite to win it all like they did a year ago. O’Sullivan was quick to point out that his team lost more than $11 million dollars in signing bonus money to the MLB Draft a year ago. They only have two seniors and a handful of juniors. It’s a young team that is riding the wave.
“I think the thing to keep in mind and remember, just getting to this point is a success. I think — I know everybody wants your team to win the last game of the year, but when you’re one of the last eight teams standing, I mean, I can’t look at this as a failure, and I don’t want our players to feel that way either,” O’Sullivan said.
“There’s no question we would love to win the first National Championship at Florida, but I never look back on the season and say that was a failure because it’s so hard to get to this point.”