Sitting between a manager that makes more than a million dollars a year and a third baseman that was selected fifth overall, in the MLB Draft just hours earlier sat the Gainesville Regional MVP.
“If you’re going to make a run in the postseason,” Kevin O’Sullivan began. “There’s stories like this guy where he comes out of nowhere and gives you a spark.”
Last year Tyler Dyson did that for the Gators but Dyson was heavily recruited and had played a role throughout the season. The guy sitting between O’Sullivan and Jonathan India literally came from obscurity.
Three years ago Jonah Girand was working in retail. He wasn’t enrolled in school and he wasn’t playing organized baseball but he knew he wanted to and he wouldn’t let his dream die.
“I worked,” he said of that year off. “I got a job and basically kind of worked and trained for an entire year just to try and be better. I worked in retail.”
The year prior he attended Santa Fe College and played on the baseball team. His coaches tell Gator Country he was a great teammate. He showed up early, stayed late but he didn’t get much playing time his freshman year and Girand made the tough decision to take a year off. During that year Girand worked out, added 15 pounds to his 6-1 frame. He hit in cages, caught whoever would throw to him and tried to work on his craft.
The year off served not only as a physical transformation but it fueled his passion for baseball.
“(It) was definitely a wake up call as to how much I really wanted it,” he said Monday. “It was good for me in that sense.”
Girand went to Seminole State Community College. “A great experience,” he says of the year with the Raiders.
Still, there were no offers coming in and he had to, once again, take matters into his own hands.
“I just contacted several coaches and sort of kept at it with contact with coaches and these coaches were great at maintaining communication with myself,” he said.
One of the coaches was Kevin O’Sullivan and Florida. Girand reached out but was basically told that he would need to wait until after the draft. O’Sullivan needed to see what kind of attrition his team would have in the draft and f he would have a place for Girand. Florida was bringing in two freshman catchers and then JJ Schwarz returned for his senior season.
Girand went ahead, finished his Associate of Arts degree and enrolled at Florida without any guarantees or even a firm offer that he would be able to walk on.
“He got his AA degree and got into school on his own,” O’Sullivan said. “I told him we had to wait until after the draft. I remember him being a big, strong kid. I just thought maybe he could be a bullpen catcher.”
So Girand took that and ran with it. Being a bullpen catcher is a thankless job. You spend hours on end crouched while Florida’s bevy of arms works on new pitches, pounds 95 MPH fastballs into your mitt and it’s all done behind the scenes, while the rest of the position players are taking infield/outfield or hitting on the field. You leave practice and spend hours icing your sore knees, getting ready to do it all over again the next day.
The lineup gets posted for a game and you already know your name isn’t on it. You’ll be in the bullpen for the duration of the game, ready to warm up the next arm that will play.
It didn’t deter him. He was happy to have a uniform and be apart of a team again.
“Jonah’s worked so hard this whole season and even in the fall. I think he was our best hitter in the fall,” Jonathan India said. “He works at it. He works at his craft.”
Girand played in nine games during the season with just one start.
Then JJ Schwarz took a foul tip on a Friday night in Starkville, Mississippi. The ball broke a bone in the captain’s hand and opened a door for Girand, who made his second start of the season in Hoover, Alabama.
“It just looked right,” O’Sullivan says of Girand’s start when he caught Jackson Kowar.
So O’sullivan stuck with Girand in the regional. The junior college journeyman blasted the first home run of his career against Columbia on Friday afternoon. He hit another against Jacksonville that proved to be the difference in the game and a third that gave Florida the lead against FAU in the decisive game that sent Florida to the Super Regional.
He caught all 18 innings on Monday and early into Tuesday morning and
“Let’s face it, you make decision like this and they make you look smart. He’s worked his tail off. It’s a prime example; again, you never know when your opportunity is going to come,” O’Sullivan said. “You just try to be the best teammate you can be and put in a good day’s workday in and day out. When you get an opportunity, oftentimes things like this happen.”
Girand’s story is one of perseverance, humility and betting on yourself. Sitting there between the most successful coach in Florida history and the fifth overall pick in the MLB Draft Girand couldn’t help but smile. It’s unlikely that he’ll be drafted this week and that’s fine. He’s just soaking everything in right now and it’s a lot to absorb.
“It sits in the back of your mind whether of not you’re going to get back to it,” he said of his journey to this moment in time. “It’s been crazy to having been out a year to playing in the Regionals with the Florida Gators.
It’s been an amazing opportunity.”