There is a method to Kevin O’Sullivan’s madness and his formula is geared toward success. Simply combine a heaping helping of discipline with an equal measure of superb teaching, mental toughness, repetition and several additional scoops of physical conditioning, place them into a large supercharged blender and liquefy. Drink early and often. The result can be easily found in the winning column. And each and every one of his players has the look and sound of a winner.
The first practice of the Kevin O’Sullivan Era is in the books. You merely need to look into the eyes and listen to the words of the Florida baseball players and it’s clear that they’ve bought into O’Sullivan’s coaching philosophy.
“If I’ve had to give one word for a change in this program, I’d say it’s discipline,” returning third baseman Jon Townsend said. “The coaches have instilled a lot of discipline whether it be on the field or off the field in the classroom or on the weekends. Even when it comes to your day-to-day routine, it’s been a journey for all of us.”
“There are expectations both on the field and off the field as well. I want to teach these kids that it’s a privilege to put this uniform on and come to the University of Florida and that anything they do both on the field and off the field is representing not only our program, but the school itself,” O’Sullivan said. “So, there are some high expectations, but nothing out of the ordinary for what anybody would expect. They’ve been learning slowly, but surely and I feel like they’ve certainly made progress in that direction.”
There have been a lot of changes within the University of Florida baseball program and we’re just now starting to reap the benefits. We’re certain to hear a lot more in the coming weeks, but for now, perhaps it’s best if you see the program through the eyes of the Gators players.
“Our individual workouts were twenty-four minutes a day,” sophomore shortstop Cole Figueroa said. “We’d come out and take groundballs and hit, but the difference between this year and last year is that the four-on-ones were very similar, you’d hit and take groundballs, but the preparation afterwards is that you have a hitting program afterward, you have a throwing program that takes at least a hundred groundballs, and after that you go into a bunting program, so after that you’re here a good three hours after your four-on-ones.”
Has the familiarity of preparing for second season been easier than it was a year ago, despite being the son of an ultra successful college baseball player?
“You definitely know what to expect now,” Figueroa said. “We’ve got a month and you kind of know how to prepare yourself. You know how to mentally prepare myself and that’s the biggest thing. I feel like last year when I came in I didn’t really know how competition wise things were going to be. Now, I know kind of what level we are and you feel more comfortable. You come out to the field and you don’t feel real nervous. I’m definitely going to be more nervous for that first game, but you have a sense of calmness out there.”
How have the freshmen taken to Coach Kevin O’Sullivan and his program?
“Coach (O’Sullivan) has been great,” freshman starting pitcher Tommy Toledo said. “From the very first day that I got here, I just came out here to toss and I didn’t even expect him to be there helping me with my long tossing program. From everything off the field too, he’s helping me out with a lot of stuff like in the classroom if I have a test or something, he makes sure that I have good study hall time to do it. Otherwise everything I’ve done on the mound he’s been helping me out. He’s been a great influence and I’m glad that he’s here and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years.”
O’Sullivan has long been recognized as a wonderful handler of pitchers. What major changes has he implemented thus far with the Florida staff?
Probably the discipline and the hard work,” sophomore starter Billy Bullock said. “They’re [the coaches] are out here all day, everyday. They’re here before we get here and they get here way after we leave just wanting people to come in here asking them to do something. It’s probably just the dedication they have and we have.”
“There wasn’t a long toss program,” Bullock added. “We didn’t do a lot except pitch and when we pitched he kind of tried to cookie cut people and make everybody the same and Sully really believes in people being their own pitcher. We get to call our own games and it puts a lot of responsibility on us. We threw the same sequence to every hitter last year, it didn’t really matter who you were. It’s really helped a lot. I’ve been working real hard on redeveloping a slider and a good hard slider. Our change-up is probably one of our most used pitches now when I probably only threw seven all of last year. He really stresses the fact that you have to have three pitches to be a start and you have to have two quality pitches to be in the bullpen.”
“I’ve worked really hard and have developed a change-up,” starting pitcher Kyle Mullaney said. “I’ve never really had a change-up, but I developed one this year and I’m spotting it better and better and the same is true with my curveball. I’ve always thrown a pretty good curveball and I can usually throw it consistently for strikes whenever I want. The same thing with my fastball, which is nothing special, I throw it in the mid to high eighties. I try to spot it in and out as best I can and throw a lot of strikes. We’re still using a lot of fastballs. The difference is that we’re throwing a lot more fastballs in, which all of us like a lot. All of these coaches believe a change-up is better than a good curveball. So, we’re definitely going to throw lot more change-ups this year. We have some guys that throw change-ups and sliders. So, I’m definitely looking forward to that this year.”
“I’ve never had really hands-on coaches to help me change my delivery and work on more pitches,” Toldeo stated. “But, he’s definitely been there for me and helping me out and I’m looking forward to working with him. Lately, he’s been helping me out with my slider and making it more sharp and a little bit harder. Before I was throwing kind of a slower curveball, but hopefully by the time I’m done with coach maybe I’ll have four pitches. I just have a typical fastball, change-up, curveball, and slider. And I’m going to start using my slider a little bit more now. We’ll probably be working on my slider than my curveball now. He’s been helping me out with my alignment and my angle, so my arm’s a little higher, so the ball’s moving a little more now. He’s been helping me out and changed a few things, but everything has been for the better.”
Florida baseball hasn’t seemed to be consistently fine tuned mentally over the past two years. Has that improved?
“Our coaches don’t mind physical mistakes, it’s more of the mental mistakes (that are unacceptable),” Townsend said. “And you’ll find that in every program. Physical mistakes, while not encouraged, it’s okay because everybody is going to make them. You’re going to strike out. Obviously, you’re not trying to strike out, but as long as you’re mentally dialed into the game, it’s okay.”
After listening to the players comments is there any question that the players are indeed dialed into the game? Things are looking up for the Gators baseball program and Kevin O’Sullivan appears to have the winning formula.