These were my notes on the Florida baseball team- last year.
One year later these notes perfectly apply to the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky baseball? Yes, Kentucky baseball. It's the ‘Cats (40-11, 19-8) who find themselves on top. The standings show Florida to reside in a spot normally reserved for the Blue and White. Yes, another reversal of fortunes has once again struck the Kentucky and Florida campuses.
A few weeks ago, it happened on the hardwood. Basketball rich Kentucky was nowhere to be found as the road to the Final Four arrived in Indianapolis, roughly 150 mile miles from its' campus. The ‘Cats didn't finish last. But, a 9-7 conference (basketball) record at Kentucky might as well be last place.
Meanwhile, Florida coach Billy Donovan turned the collegiate basketball world on its' ear by molding his young Gators together for a run through the tourney and into The Hoosier State, where they defeated tradition rich UCLA for the title of best in the land. Prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament, much of the talk centered around which round the Gators would be bounced out on their collective behinds.
Certainly the spring would bring another championship opportunity for the Gators?
Former Florida hitting coach John Cohen has captured the attention of baseball enthusiasts as his ‘Cats ready themselves to spring into the top five nationally. Forget Barry Bonds. Forget Boston and New York. The most intriguing story in baseball has to be Kentucky.
The Wildcats are the Eastern Division title for the first time in 30 years. Thirty years.
Thirty years ago, Gerald Ford was our president. Apple Computers was founded. The first punk rock band, The Ramones, had just released their first album. By the way, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame four years ago.
In 1976, first year coach Jay Bergman and his Gators finished with a 21-27, 10-13 record. Florida went on to become Eastern Division champions in 1977. Hmmm. Very interesting. Obviously, it's a vicious cycle and one that factually can lead from hero to goat or goat to hero- depending on your allegiance.
Cohen has taken seven returning position starters and ten returning pitchers from a Kentucky squad that produced just seven conference wins a year ago to the top of the toughest conference in baseball. He has done so facing the same dilemmas that coaches face every season- injuries, pitching woes, and a mini slump in which the ‘Cats dropped five of eight games. And Cohen did so without a top recruiting class.
Down in Gainesville, Florida was expected to repeat. The Gators returned seven position starters and ten pitchers from a squad that finished their season in a best of three series for the National Championship on the greatest stage in college baseball- Omaha.
2006 would present a very different picture and now that it's played out, the reality is that the Gators were done before the last weekend in March. Since defeating Arkansas in the opening conference series, Florida has in a word- struck out.
It's interesting to note the total reversal of fortunes though. Going into the last weekend of conference play in 2005, the Gators (35-18, 17-10) were on the verge of 20 wins, led the league in power numbers, and were energized by a pitching staff that was developing into a very confident group. Meanwhile, the Wildcats were struggling through a dismal 7-19 conference record, barely above .500 (29-24) overall.
One year later….
Defending champion Florida (8-19) did not make the SEC Tournament field. Pathetically, they must win two games this weekend against LSU to stay above .500 overall. And just like Kentucky one year ago- they too find themselves in the conference cellar, while the road to Birmingham is paved Kentucky Blue.