Senior Schwarz back to lead top-ranked Florida

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Florida catcher JJ Schwarz belts a home run in the third inning of Game 3 of Super Regional last summer in Gainesville. The Gators beat Wake Forest 3-0 to move on to the College World Series, where the Gators won the national title. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

 

For all of his accolades on the field, it was in the stands that UF senior JJ Schwarz learned a lot about college baseball.

Sitting there in the fall while he recovered from shoulder surgery, Schwarz had a different view of his teammates.

“Body language,” he said “I’ve never been to a game so I never watched from the stands until those scrimmages. I could see how much of an impact body language has on the viewer.

“I had bad body language as a freshman because nobody talks about that in high school. That’s something (his teammates) need to hear from an older guy.”

JJ Schwarz, old man.

All of 21 years of age.

But in college baseball terms, he’s a wily veteran.

He’s also a captain.

Once Schwarz made his decision last year to return for his senior season, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan decided to break from his personal tradition by starting a new one.

“We probably should have done it before, but for whatever reason it hadn’t crossed my mind,” O’Sullivan said. “When he decided to come back, it seemed like a real good time to start a new tradition.”

On Friday, the first practice of the year for the defending national champions, Schwarz seemed eager to embrace that role. The shy, quiet freshman who burst on the scene with a four-homer game has matured into a guy who has seen a lot and experienced so much.

You know about dog years? College baseball years cannot be measured by a conventional calendar.

Not for this player, who was lavished with praise as a freshman and derided on national TV as a junior.

You’ll hear it again this year when commentators talk about Schwarz, who might have been a first-round pick if he had gone pro out of high school, was taken in the 38th round last summer.

“Where he got drafted had everything to do with signability,” O’Sullivan said. “He had a good year. Obviously, I was really excited when he decided to come back. Anyone in the country would welcome JJ back for his senior year.”

Last season, Schwarz hit .259 with 12 homers and 56 RBI, hitting .312 in SEC play. As an older player, those numbers didn’t jump off the page for major league front offices.

“I definitely had my heart on leaving last year,” Schwarz said. “I’ve kind of made peace with it now. It’s definitely very humbling, definitely something I didn’t expect.”

Nor did many Gator baseball fans expect to see No. 22 behind the plate this year (he’s expecting to catch a lot for UF with the departure of Mike Rivera).

But his bat and experience are just one more element in a preseason filled with expectations and a horde of No. 1 rankings from various publications.

“His coming back for his senior year says a lot about him,” said junior pitcher Jackson Kowar. “I was real excited because he’s been my catcher for two years.

“He’s such a polished college hitter. That’s great for the young guys. There’s not that many guys in the country like that who you can learn from.”

The old man.

“I started to notice (in practice) when I saw someone doing something wrong, I knew what the coaches were going to say,” Schwarz said. “I’d say it under my breath and then (one of the coaches) would say it.

“I knew I’ve been here way too long.”

That depends on your perspective.

10 COMMENTS

    • Gator Steve…I thought maybe you might be Mike Winter with that comment. No offense (cause I know that is like calling some an expletive) but man alive, we are defending champs. And have an excellent shot at getting back to Omaha and having a chance to repeat. Plus we’ve dominated UM and FSU over the past several seasons. We got the hits when we needed them last year.

    • Ha…Mikey Winter disease is spreading eh.

      Of course they’ve recruited big time hitters….always have. Some don’t make it to college and go pro. Check their high school stats…

      LAST year the bats weren’t as good but as a TEAM they delivered timely hits and won the chip.

  1. Actually a very smart move in my view to come back. I think with the team finally getting that first CWS championship last year, it will help take some of the monkey off his back this season. At least he can now match his sister Taylor with that title and household bragging rights!! My hope is that he takes this season to relax ( a bit) and enjoy his last year in college and the true fun of playing baseball. I agree with Steve, Gator Nation is rooting for you!

  2. Seems like everyone who really knows JJ feels the same way. He’s more than a baseball player. He’s a great person and deserves to be treated as one. I agree with previous comment. I hope he can relax and really enjoy this final year.