Because the Sky is Blue and the Sun is Orange
Gosh I am so jealous of the Florida Gator baseball team right now. This program has come from the swampy bottom muck to the clouds in their 96 season history. Ironically, the Gators have been to the College World Series 7 times, all after I left the shadows and clay of Alfred A. McKethan Stadium. A former teammate of mine once bragged, “The sky is blue and the Sun orange because God is a Gator fan”. Starting to believe that right now.
What is even more amazing is the Gators had to defeat their Southeastern Conference nemesis Vanderbilt (Sorry David Price) to possibly get another shot at the championship in a best-of-3 shootout with either fellow SEC foe South Carolina, or Virginia. 12 SEC titles do not mean a thing at this point as the Gators and either the Gamecocks or Cavaliers will start with an even keel going into the finals.
Doesn’t seem like 25 years ago I pulled up my stirrups and buttoned my uniform up for Coach Joe Arnold. Did you know that before the modern era of Gator baseball, Coaches worked with the squad on a part-time basis, usually holding other coaching spots in the Gator’s other athletic teams.
I heard early Gator baseball legend tales about former Gator baseball player and eventual Coach Lance Richbourg who went on to play for the Boston Braves (and others)
Richbourg only played on the Gator’s baseball squad for one season, in 1919, but in between his stints in Major League Baseball always seemed to find a way back to the green grass of Gainesville, Florida. Richbourg compiled an outstanding 39-21 overall record in his 3 seasons as the Head Gator (1922, 1923 and 1926).
Since that time M L B well known names like San Diego Padres SS/2B David Eckstein, Cleveland Indians OF/1B Matt LaPorta, Kansas City Royals 1B Ryan Shealy and Texas Ranger SP/RP Darren O’Day. Former OF Brad Wilkinson, former Rays 3B Herbert Perry and countless others have also had the honor of donning the blue and orange.
There have also been some highly recognizable past names associated with the blue and orange like SP John Burke who was the first ever draft choice of the expansion Colorado Rockies. Or maybe you have heard about former Gator Johnny Burnett, who on July 10, 1932 against the Philadelphia Athletics put up some astronomical slugging numbers as he pounded out 9 hits in an 18-inning contest.
One Gator has even won the coveted American League MVP trophy while also becoming a 2-time Home Run and RBI crown winner while with the Cleveland Indians. Al Rosen might just go down in history as the premier Bull Gator. That is until possibly this 2011 crew make their M L B marks.
But it is this 2011 Gator team that deserves the spotlight right now. A squad that has toiled, sweat and scraped their way to within 3 games of that elusive National Championship dream. 3 finals games will decide their destiny, their eventual fate, and possibly accumulate a few late night fantasies into reality.
Tonight I will raise a glass (more than once) to the hurlers and sluggers of the Blue and Orange who have graced the NCAA Baseball 4-years straight, but this season are finally seeing the hard work, dedication and sacrifice come to fruition. 3 more vital games that everyone in Gator Nation, including us who played so long ago, will watch with anticipation, excitement and most of all pride.
No matter what the outcome. No matter if there is defeat or exhilaration after those hard fought games within the confines of TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, these Gators have already won…..our hearts.