It was a 3-0 count, normally an automatic red light for any better but Jonathan India was 0-3 that Thursday night in Lexington and his 24-game hitting streak was on the line in a game that was just about over with the Gators up 9-2 in the ninth inning.
To best grasp the monster year India is having in his third season in Gainesville you have to understand what Florida’s third baseman did next. He watched a 3-0 fastball go past for a called strike. India knew well that, even though it wasn’t the exact pitch he was looking for, that it would likely be the only one he would see that at bat and the last chance he would have to keep chasing Florida’s record for consecutive games with a hit. He watched a 3-1 off speed pitch in the dirt, took his base and that was it.
India’s approach this season has been more patient than his previous two seasons. It’s part of the reason why he leads the Southeastern Conference with 39 walks through 46 games. He also leads the SEC in average (.401), on base-percentage (.546), slugging (.810), OPS (1.356) and runs scored (50). D1Baseball.com had him ranked as the 41st best college player in the draft prior to the 2018 campaign, now India is being talked about as a Golden Spikes Award winner and potentially the first college batter taken when the MLB Draft takes place in early June.
Back to the streak, though. India’s streak began on a Friday night against Rhode Island at home. He went 2-2 that night. Throughout the streak India didn’t even have many dramatic nights. On only three occasions did India need a hit in his final at bat to extend the streak (3/21 vs. JU, 3/27 vs. FSU, 4/8 vs. Tennessee). Eight times he extended his streak in his first at bat and 10 times in his second. The junior was locked in, as his overall stats through the course of the streak show.
India during the hitting streak:
AVG AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI SLG OBP 2+ hit games 2+ RBI games
.513 80 41 28 7 3 8 21 .975 .623 16 8
All the while India was chasing Timmy Olson’s school record of 29 games. Olson joined the Gators after playing two years in junior college but it almost never came to fruition. Olson, a native of Grand Folks, North Dakota committed to Miami during his sophomore season in junior college. Something during that process changed and Olson had a fellow Dakotan to lean on in shortstop Mark Ellis. Ellis was on his way out and Olson gave him a call. He then quickly called Andy Lopez, UF manager at the time, and the rest is history.
Olson got his career started at shortstop but a four error game, three coming in the ninth inning, against Miami would spell the end of his days in the infield, but not the end of his time in the lineup.
“I knew to stay in the lineup I just had to hit,” Olson told Gator Country. “That’s really all I was focusing on, production offensively.”
Olson is a diehard Gator. He makes sure to attend a home football game every year, watches basketball and baseball still, too. Like many fans, he grew frustrated with the way the team hit in 2017 before their National Championship run.
“Their offense kind of drove me insane, even though they won a National Championship there were times that were just like, ‘c’mon man!’ I almost wished I could have given them a couple of pointers, not that they would have necessarily listened to me,” he joked.
Olson’s career lasted just one season but his 29-game hitting streak still lives on in the Florida history books. Unlike India, who was bombarded with interview requests and questions in each of his 16 multi-hit games and even on nights where he would just go 1-3, Olson says he didn’t even know he had a chance at the school record until he was told that he was close to Brad Wilkerson’s record of 26. There may be no bigger name in Florida baseball history than Wilkerson, so that peaked Olson’s attention.
“I don’t think I ever really considered the hit streak or really even understood it until I broke Brad Wilkerson’s streak (26 games). A day or two before I broke that people started noticing,” Olson said. “Then I was trying to go for the SEC record (36 games – Andy Phillips, Alabama, 1999). The Friday night games are certainly harder because you’re facing the best of the best, my year we had some really good guys. I think I would up losing it on a Sunday afternoon in Tennessee. Nothing good happens in Tennessee.”
As far as India is concerned he took the streak ending in stride. He’s cooled off hitting just .222 (4-18) with two home runs in the five games since it ended but the Gators continue to win and that’s what he continues to focus on. Florida has won 17-consecutive weekend series dating back to last season, including all 11 this season and four sweeps. They are the only team in the SEC to not lose a conference series this season and India is one of the key reasons for that in what is the most pressure-filled year for any Division 1 baseball players’ career.
“That junior year sometimes they tend to press a little bit and try to hit balls to the pull side and try to hit with more power and that type of thing, but the most impressive thing for him is developing as a hitter and using the whole field and not falling in that trap that a lot players do,” Kevin O’Sullivan said of India.
The MLB Draft comes at a cruel time for a lot of team and players. Especially one like India that has seen his draft stock surge with the type of season he’s having. With the start on June 4th the Gators will likely either be hosting a NCAA Regional or getting set for a Super Regional. India and the Gators desperately want to get back to Omaha and have a chance to repeat as champions. His .401 batting average would rank 7th best all-time at Florida and his .810 slugging percentage would be the best in school history right now.
“I don’t even think of it like that,” India said of his statistics this season. “I’m just happy we’re winning and I’m producing for the team.”
And that kind of attitude, just like taking a 3-0 pitch with your 24-game hitting on the line, is why Jonathan India has taken his game to the next level and why he’ll make a MLB team very happy very soon.