The Front Nine comes at you on the verge of a big weekend for the bats and balls crowd. SEC baseball tourney title on the line, softball super regional in Gainesville. A lot of teams elsewhere have already finished their seasons.
1. In a way, I think I owe the Gator baseball team an apology because last week in this space I might have implied I was done watching them. That is always a hollow threat because if the Gators are playing a sport and it’s televised anywhere – TV, phone, Smart Watch, Maxwell Smart’s watch – I am watching and when I’m not watching I am listening to the dulcet tones of Jeff Cardozo. So, these last three games have been fun, especially since Florida has yet to trail in the SEC Tournament and had today off. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Florida is winning in Hoover, Ala. The Gators are playing SullyBall again. They are pitching lights out and flashing the leather in the field. Yes, they are hitting as well, but they’ve been hitting all year. It’s the pitching and defense that have been inconsistent.
2. So, now it comes down to facing off against the winner of the Tennessee-Alabama game Saturday and – if Florida wins – a title game Sunday. The problem is – who do you pitch? The SEC is the least important tournament this team will play in the next two weeks and you have to piece it together when you get to the final weekend in lovely Hoover without taxing your staff. Because the following weekend, it’s the start of a whole new season with regionals and you need your pitchers ready to go. So, I’d expect Christian Scott to go Saturday since he hasn’t pitched and then there’s no telling who throws Sunday if the Gators make it to the title game. That’s the problem with the tournament, but what else are you going to do?
3. I remember in 1996 when Florida had to play two games the last day and Andy Lopez only threw guys he knew he wouldn’t need in the regionals (Chuck Knollin and a freshman who wasn’t ready to pitch names Josh Fogg). Or 2000 – which was the last time Florida went 3-0 in Hoover – and they threw Stuart McFarland in the championship game (LSU scored seven in the first inning). That ’96 team made the College World Series and the 2000 team made it to the regional finals in Waco.
4. One last thing on baseball – Florida won’t be a national seed even if it wins the last two games, but you hope that the committee looks at the way the Gators are playing now and keeps them out of the dreaded 15 or 16 seed. Florida will host the regional and will almost certainly travel if the Gators make it to the Supers, but you don’t want to go to Arkansas. The biggest reason Florida won’t host a Super regional is COVID. The Gators’ non-conference schedule was impacted by the fact that teams did not want to travel to Florida to play. Only Samford and Georgia State made the trip and the state teams who Florida played didn’t help much.
5. Let’s turn our attention to softball and another Super Regional that starts today at 5 for Florida against another SEC team in Georgia. I asked Tim Walton on my podcast if he could remember the team he last faced in a Super that wasn’t from the SEC. He knew it was Washington in 2014 in what was a bizarre series because of rain delays (you remember rain, don’t you?) and the fact that Florida run-ruled Washington twice but lost the middle game. It will be a hot series at KSP this weekend and I mean hot because the second and possibly third games are at noon and it’s Florida-Georgia which is always different.
6. I know the NBA Playoffs and Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Julio Jones and Aaron Rodgers sagas are going on, but all I really care about right now is college sports and how many days it is until the next major in golf. It’s just who I am. As the desk clerk says in This is Spinal Tap, “I am as God made me.”
7. I finally decided to see what was going on with the golf course at Turkey Creek and was pleasantly surprised by the greens. I only played nine holes, but it was certainly in great shape considering what that course has been through. It was great to remember the old days of having the Bob Dooley Invitational out there and those Charley Pell Clambakes that were legendary. Most importantly, it’s good that in a community with few options, there is now another one.
8. It’s Trivial Trivia Time my friends and today’s question involves Nat Moore, who was generous enough to send us a signed helmet for the golf tournament. Moore was at Florida for two years because he came from junior college. What were the two numbers he wore?
9. I sometimes forget things, like the other day when I insisted to Taurean Green that Florida played Duke in 2006 and he corrected me. I guess I just forgot that there was a TV movie Daydream Believers: The Story of the Monkees that came out in 2000. Or else I never saw it. Anyway, it popped up on Prime Video that other day and I really enjoyed it so I am recommending it this week. Of course, I was a huge fan of the Monkees then and again when MTV revived the show and now when one of the songs comes on my playlist. Anyway, Nat Moore wore 39 his first year and made it big so he switched to 33 as a senior.