Tommy Mace is out on a golf course in Tampa playing a round of golf with his dad to celebrate Frank Mace’s birthday. I only know this because he interjects before a question and tells me he needs to tee off. Mace puts the phone down and I hear the familiar sound of a driver hitting a ball. When he comes back I joke that it sounded like a hook.
“Yeah, definitely hooked that into the trees,” Mace confirmed.
Sounds like a slider off the plate, ball four. Kevin O’Sullivan wouldn’t be happy about that.
Mace, like thousands of other spring sport athletes, had his season ended unceremoniously by COVID-19. Mace is in a better position than most. He’s a top-end daft prospect — scouts I’ve spoken to this week expect him to be selected in round two or three whenever the MLB Draft eventually happens. On this afternoon, however, Mace reflected on the Florida Gators’ season, starting with how it ended.
Florida brought a perfect 16-0 record home to McKethan Stadium on March 10 only to have it snapped by Florida State in a 2-0 loss.
“We had some momentum things but Florida State’s a good ballclub and they just shut it down,” Mace recalled. “Baseball is built off of momentum and they just kind of had the momentum the whole time. We weren’t going to go perfect but it sucks that it’s Florida State.”
There were many questions that Tuesday night. How would the Gators respond to their first loss? SEC play was scheduled to start on Friday and Georgia was coming to town. Mace was scheduled to start against Georgia’s Emerson Hancock, a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.
Then the pandemic really started picking up in the United State and things moved quickly.
“The coaches were on the same page as us not really knowing what was gonna happen,” Mace said. “We had a meeting that Thursday of when the Georgia series got postponed. We had a meeting then and the coaches were like, ‘we know just as much as y’all.’”
In the span of 48 hours we went from the weekend series being held normally, to being held without fans, to postponed. Soon, the entire season would be cancelled.
The 2020 Florida baseball team was special. Much of that reason harken back to what they went through in 2019. The players that went through the 2019 season made sure to set the standard and expectations right away when the team met for the first time in the fall and everyone bought in.
The 2020 team came together quickly off the field. Whether it was Mace taking Nathan Hickey to Relish to get the freshman his favorite burger or guys hanging out with Jack Leftwich, Kirby McMullen, or the other 34 guys on the roster.
“Throughout fall and spring on the field and off the field we were just together a lot. It brought us really close,” Mace said. “I think that helps even off the field, like, ‘hey let’s go get dinner, let’s get food’ or go do this or that. It brings the team closer than just seeing each other on the field.”
That bond showed when the games started. Florida won and swept and bulldozed through the first three weeks of the season undefeated. Walking off the field Tuesday night Mace was getting mentally ready for his Friday start against Georgia. 48 hours later his junior season was done. The worst part wasn’t that the season was over or that he had potentially thrown his last pitch in Orange and Blue, it was the cold reality that the bonds the 2020 team built were done. They would never play again as a team. It was over and they didn’t know that Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium would be their last together.
“Not playing with that team is just so weird to me. Not playing with the 2020 team anymore is just mind-boggling, still. It still really hasn’t hit me yet,” Mace said.
Mace hasn’t made a final decision on going pro or coming back to school. A scout I talked to expected he would be selected in the second or third round of the MLB Draft and that’s hard to pass up, but we don’t know if there will even be a Major League Baseball season in 2020 or a minor league season.
He’s back home in Tampa with his family doing what the rest of us are, waiting for answers, hoping for the best and doing whatever we can to pass the time.
His future is hanging in the balance, mostly out of his control. If he could control one thing right now he’d want just one more chance to play with his teammates.
“I wish that team could play just like a Perfect Game tournament, honestly. I would just love to play with them again and know that it’s our last game. We didn’t know the FSU game was our last game together. That’s the hardest part,” he said. “It brings stuff in perspective, just never taking a game off or taking a game for granted. You never know when it’s going to end.”