OMAHA, Neb. — The game was already out of hand with Mississippi State up 12-5 in the fifth inning. Brady Singer had been scratched from his start and if that wasn’t bad enough JJ Schwarz had just taken a foul tip to his right throwing hand.
In the moment Schwarz was devastated.
The senior chose to come back to school for his senior season. He was named the team’s captain — the first player to be named captain during O’Sullivan’s tenure. Not to mention Schwarz was locked in. he was hitting .459 over his last 10 games prior to the Mississippi State series with two home runs and eight RBI.
Now, his hand throbbing, all he could think about was that this is how his career would end. The first three years of his career at Florida all ended in Omaha, but in the moment it seemed that he may have played his last baseball game as a Gator in Starkville, Mississippi.
“My initial thought was that my season was over and that’s how my career was going to end,” Schwarz told Gator Country. “I was pretty emotional.”
To complicate matters the Gators weren’t going home anytime soon. With the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama just days later the team decided to travel straight to Hoover from Starkville, which kept Schwarz from getting an initial x-ray on his right hand until the Tuesday, four days after the injury. The x-ray revealed a broken bone but a timetable was established.
“I knew that if I was going to play it would be in Omaha,” Schwarz said. “Just having the game come down to that, so tight. I knew my career wouldn’t end like that. It couldn’t be like that.”
He took on a new role with the team. He’s not a vocal player, never has been, but that’s all he could be now. He helped Kevin O’Sullivan call pitches when Jackson Kowar threw. O’Sullivan admitted that he’s never had a great feel for Kowar and what pitches he’s confident with throughout a game but JJ has caught Kowar his entire career and stepped in. He continued to help the younger players and help his replacement Jonah Girand.
“Once I realized what my role had to be in the dugout I got better,” he said. “Originally my role was to lead by example, a quiet confidence. Then it turned into more of encouraging in the dugout; a vocal guy, which I’ve never been. I kind of learned something about myself.”
Schwarz continue to get x-rays and little by little his body was doing what it should and you could see the bone starting to repair itself. He took batting practice for the first time since the injury the Friday before the Gators Super Regional matchup against Auburn. At that time he was holding the bat with his middle and pointer fingers off of the handle, certainly not ideal. He hit again Tuesday before Florida traveled to Omaha and felt better. For the first time since the injury he was able to hold the bat normally and take swings at TD Ameritrade Park. He lofted a few balls into the bleachers and didn’t make his injury any worse.
The injury will keep him from catching and he hasn’t been given the full green light to play on Sunday. If he does in fact play, which after his batting practice session Friday is expected he will, he’ll play first base. Schwarz played in the first 53 games this season but only seven of those came at first, so he’s been taking extra fielding practice to get comfortable.
Florida’s offense hasn’t been the same without him. The biggest question was would JJ be able to get to a place health wise that he would be the same JJ that was crushing baseballs before the injury or would you be rushing him back in the lineup just for the name and a hope or a prayer that he would perform some kind of magic?
“Obviously it was positive he took batting practice on Tuesday. But these decisions are not made by me; they’re made by JJ, his family and the trainer, to be honest with you. I’m not involved with those decisions. It’s not like I walk up to him each and every day and ask him if he’s ready. He’ll come to me when he’s ready. I have my fingers crossed, but obviously up to him.”