Gushue getting back into comfort zone


Florida sophomore Taylor Gushue spent his freshman season learning behind standout catcher Mike Zunino.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.

The glove sits there on the desk next to his bed, kind of his version of “Wilson” from the movie “Cast Away.” It speaks to him when times are going good and not so good.

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Florida sophomore Taylor Gushue spent his freshman season learning behind standout catcher Mike Zunino.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer

Facts

SEC baseball series

Who: Tennessee (17-22, 5-13 SEC) at Florida (23-19, 10-8)
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: McKethan Stadium
Radio: AM-850
Friday night's pitching matchup: UT freshman right-hander Aaron Quillen (1-2, 5.52 ERA) vs. UF junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford (3-5, 4.37).

The catcher's mitt was a gift from New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a pretty fair catcher himself, to Taylor Gushue when Gushue was a high school junior.

“He wrote on it, ‘Never stop believing and never be satisfied,' ” Gushue said. “I look at it and know that when things are going bad you have to keep believing, and when they are going well you can't be satisfied. You have to keep working.”

Gushue has received inspiration from the glove, and he's needed it. How many college baseball players have experienced what he has been through by the time they are barely 19 years old?

Gushue burst on the scene as a freshman who should have still been in high school. He homered on the first college pitch he saw. By March 5, he had already been named SEC Freshman of the Week twice.

But the game caught up to him. By the time the season ended, he was a .206 hitter hoping to get some at-bats here and there.

“It was hard going through that,” Gushue said. “I'd never been through anything like that before. I tasted success, but I tasted all that failure, too. It was a humbling experience.

“It puts things in perspective. You're not going to have success all the time.”

On a team loaded with stars, Gushue faded into the background last year. But he was also learning how to play catcher from one of the best ever at Florida — Mike Zunino.

“Taylor and I and his family thought last year would be a learning situation that would catapult him to a great season,” Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “He's right where we thought he'd be. Right now, he's a better player for making that decision out of high school.”

But at the start of the season, Gushue looked a lot like the player who struggled in the second half last year. He wasn't hitting, wasn't providing any power and was struggling to be the everyday catcher. In one game he infamously failed to throw out a base stealer on a pitch out.

So he turned to the glove.

“The first part of the year brought back some of those memories from last year,” Gushue said. “I'm not going to say there weren't any doubts. When you're struggling, everything is going 100 mph.

“You can't look over your shoulder, but you can't help from doing it. I was privileged to have that glove from Joe Girardi. It just told me to keep believing.”

As Florida prepares for an important SEC series with Tennessee on Friday night at 7, Gushue is red hot. He has brought his average up to .302 by hitting .324 in SEC games where the pitching is supposed to be better than in non-conference games. Three of his four homers have come in SEC games.

And behind the plate, he has yet to make an error in a conference game after making seven in non-conference games.

“It's all about confidence,” Gushue said. “Relax and know you can do it. When you don't have confidence in anything, it's miserable.”

Gushue will be a key factor in the weekend series against the Vols, who play a West Coast style of baseball with aggressive base-running.

“Every game is so important right now,” O'Sullivan said. “We're just thinking about the next one.”

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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