Jeroloman Takes An Assist From A Georgia Bulldog

University of Florida catcher Brian Jeroloman's path wasn't as straight as the line from first to second. A high school coach who played at Georgia provided an honest assessment of his weaknesses and followed up by introducing the Wellington High School sophomore to a whole new world.

"I started out at second base in high school," Jeroloman said. "But, my sophomore year, our coach, Scott Benedict, told me that I was too slow to play second. He wanted to try me out at catcher. The first time I threw, I threw a 1.9. He told me that was a pro time and that I'd be doing the catching from now on. I've been there since my sophomore year."

"We had a really good team at Wellington. We were 10th in the nation in the Baseball America polls. Coach Benedict was great. He played at Georgia and he taught me so much about catching. He would get me out of class and we'd go out and he'd work my butt off. Here I was dressed in khakis and we'd be on the field. By the time I got back to class, they were really dirty. I still call Coach Benedict from time to time, when I need to talk to somebody about the game."

From Wellington, Jeroloman came to the University of Florida where he's continued his development. During his freshman year at UF he threw out 11 of 38 runners (.289). This season he ranks among the best in the nation, throwing out 34 of 72 runners (.472). Jeroloman's play behind the plate is one of the chief reasons the Florida Gators (40-20) are seeded seventh nationally and hosting a regional as the NCAA Baseball Tournament kicks off this weekend at McKethan Stadium.

"Some catchers have to make the most incredible throw every time (when throwing to pick off a runner)," he said. "Things can really go wrong when you do that every single time. We have the best middle infield in the country. I know that if I can get the ball down there in good shape, they'll make the play. They've proven it."

One of his greatest attributes is leadership. Jeroloman takes the responsibility of developing the pitcher/catcher relationship and has made it work for his own benefit, as well as, the team. He has to be able to point out things that the pitcher may be doing wrong one minute and put the lessons learned in behavioral psychology into play the next.

"As a catcher you have to be in sync with the pitcher," he said. "You have to know your pitchers well … very well. Sometimes you have to kick 'em in the head when you need to. You can't allow them to get the big head when things are going well. They have to stay alert and focus. Luckily, we don't have that problem with this staff."

Jeroloman utilizes the lower body strength and technique that allow him to get a lot of velocity on the ball when throwing down to second. You'll rarely see him not get enough on the ball. One mistake often made by young catchers is not getting squared up before releasing the ball. Footwork isn't just for cornerbacks. It is an important part of becoming a defensive weapon in baseball as well. Taking a ball in the dirt versus one up in the zone obviously requires a change in footwork, and you never really know when a pitch is going to get away from a pitcher.

Repetition is one of the keys to becoming an outstanding defensive catcher. It's obvious that Jeroloman and the Florida staff have worked extensively on making the Gators a solid team behind the plate.

"Coach Fleetwood, Coach Jones, and Coach Mac have really done a lot for me," he said. "They've instilled the work ethic. We look over tapes of games and go over the positive things that I've done well. We'll go back and look over the negative things and see things that I need to work on. They push you to correct those things in practice before it can happen again in a game. I can't thank Coach Mac enough. He has been a definite role model on and off of the field for me." v Offensively, his current .292 average isn't as solid as his .318 season average a year ago. His on base percentage has also slipped a bit from 2004. However, Jeroloman is hitting with more power. His only home run in '04 was a walk off grand slam which gave the Gators a 5-3 victory over Northwestern. He currently has ripped six home runs. His slugging percentage is up from .364 to .421. He has also significantly cut down on his strikeouts.

The 6-0, 190-pound sophomore has also been able to rely on the experiences of his brother, Chuck, who played shortstop at Auburn, his father Charles, who played basketball, and family friend, Wellington native, and former Florida State star Luis Alicea. Both Chuck and Luis are employed by the World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Chuck Jeroloman was drafted in the 21st round of the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft by the Red Sox. He is currently playing for the Class A affiliate in Greenville. Alicea is currently the manager of the Lowell Spinners, a Red Sox Class A short season affiliate in the New York-Penn League.

"I can call Chuck anytime," Brian said. "He helps pull me through when I need some advice. Luis Alicia helped me. When I was six years old, Luis Alicia would help me with things that allowed me to play better. He is a great guy. My dad played basketball, but he always had a love for baseball. When I was little the first toy that I picked up was a Whiffle Ball bat, so he said that he figured I would be a ball player. He understands the things you go through as an athlete."

Brian Jeroloman is talented, make no mistake. But, the fact that he has been able to elevate his game in part due to the efforts of former players at Georgia, Auburn, and Florida State puts a grin squarely on the faces of Florida fans everywhere.

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