Gator Baseball Really Needs This One

In 1988, the Gator baseball team made its first trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. As Florida's baseball radio play-by-play man, I made this historic journey and to this day consider it a personal career highlight.

No, I know players and coaches always go into a competition or tournament with one goal. They are there to win. I did not have such a burden to bear. I had my own goal. I wanted the Gators to win one game. I felt Florida's first trip to the College World Series would be looked at as a fluke. Since the Gators had never shown they could compete at the highest level the program's image would have taken a hit had they gone one, two barbeque.

The Gators fulfilled my goal for them if not their goal that year. After losing the first game to Wichita State 5-4 the Gators posted a 6-5 win over California to send the Bears home and earn another game at the CWS. That game didn't turn out too well as the eventual NCAA Champ Arizona State pounded the Gators 10-1. Still, Florida had a win in Omaha. The Gators proved they belonged.

This Gator team does not have that historic issue facing it. Florida, as a program, is making its sixth appearance in the CWS though most everyone associated with the program is there for the first time in Orange and Blue. Still, I think it's important or at least meaningful for the Gators to win Monday afternoon for several reasons.

Validation for youngsters ---- Kevin O'Sullivan and his incredible freshmen have defied conventional wisdom all season long in getting to this point. Common sense says you don't go to Omaha with two freshmen in your three-man rotation and rookies at catcher and shortstop. So why not continue to defy the odds and keep fooling them one more time?

Don't repeat 1998 ---- In Florida's five previous trips to Omaha the Gators have won at least one game every year except '98. That was the bizarre year when just about every game was a slugfest and led the efforts to reduce the capability of metal bats. Florida scored 23 runs in two games, but still lost to Mississippi State (14-13) and USC (12-10).

Momentum for 2011 ---- The Gators are going to be loaded for next season with the team only having to replace centerfielder Matt den Dekker and (most likely) closer Kevin Chapman. Still there's nothing better to give you a surge into the next campaign than finishing on a high note. Anything short of winning it all would be somewhat disappointing, but the further they go the better they'll feel about it.

It's FSU for crying out loud ---- The Gators have played the Seminoles four times this year and lost three of them, but for the most part the pitchers who were starting those games won't break a sweat in this one. More notably the Gators and Seminoles have played three games in Omaha and Florida won all three. Florida posted as 5-0 win in 1991 and won games 5-2 and 6-3 in 1996. Freshman Brad Wilkerson hit a grand slam in the elimination game and pitched out of the bullpen too earning the nickname "Super Boy" from FSU coach Mike Martin. The fact that one of these will send the other one home as the first team eliminated adds a lot of juice to the fifth Florida/FSU baseball game of the year.


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