OMAHA, Neb. — Florida celebrated its breakthrough first baseball national championship deep into Tuesday night at TD Ameritrade Park.
The impact of the national title should change both the profile and expectations for a program that had knocked on the door in 11 College World Series trips before bringing home a trophy.
Contrary to rumors, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan is firmly in place, having signed a 10-year, $11 million extension in 2016 after being heavily pursued by Texas. O’Sullivan said before the season began that he felt like once Florida (52-19) won its first national title, it could go on a run for multiple titles.
“Just trying to enjoy this one right now,” said O’Sullivan when reminded of that statement Tuesday night. “You’re putting pressure on me to win another one already. I don’t know. I think Florida baseball is in great shape right now.”
The Gators have committed $30 million of its $100 million master plan for renovations at McKethan Stadium to make it more fan friendly, including canopies for shade. But there also have been talks of revising that plan and building a new stadium entirely. Whatever the case, the improvements, plus UF’s national championship pedigree, should help get more fans in seats and continue momentum in recruiting.
“I know there are plans for a facility and that type of thing, but it’s never hurt us in recruiting,” O’Sullivan said.
In the short term, Florida will need to find replacements for a handful of key players. For sure, Florida will lose ace righty Alex Faedo (first round, Detroit Tigers), shortstop Dalton Guthrie (sixth round, Philadelphia Phillies) and catcher Mike Rivera (sixth round, Cleveland Indians) to the MLB draft. Draft-eligible sophomore second baseman Deacon Liput (29th round, Los Angeles Dodgers) and catcher/first baseman JJ Schwarz (38th round, Tampa Bay Rays) will have tougher decisions to make whether to come back to school or turn pro.
Sophomore righty Brady Singer (9-5, 3.21 ERA) will return as the ace of UF’s staff with high confidence after allowing just two earned runs in 14 innings in a pair of College World Series wins. Sophomore righty Jackson Kowar (12-1, 4.08) will be back and move up to UF’s second starter role, while freshman righty Tyler Dyson (4-0, 3.23) emerged late this season and could be in line to become the third starter next season. In addition, closer Michael Byrne will be back after posting a school-record 19 saves this season.
O’Sullivan said he’s looking forward to seeing another strong incoming freshman class when he returns to campus.
“In this business you get to enjoy this for a bit, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it, too,” O’Sullivan said. “As soon as we get back home, you have exit meetings with your players and some guys are going off into pro ball, and some guys are going off into summer ball …
“There’s really no time to take a deep breath. But I will find time after we have our exit meetings and do the paperwork that we need to do and look at this thing with a little more perspective. But I don’t want to talk about winning another one already. It’s hard enough.”
All-CWS team: Freshman outfielder Austin Langworthy and Faedo and Singer were selected representing Florida.
Big crowds: Attendance at the College World Series was the highest in the 71-year history of the event. A total of 357,646 fans turned out for the 16 games at TD Ameritrade Park, surpassing the previous record of 353,378 for 16 games in 2015. Total attendance has not fallen below 300,000 since first hitting that mark in 2006.
This year’s average attendance of 22,352 was the highest since the record 24,392 in 2013.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.