Florida senior Kirby McMullen had waited quite a while to finally receive his chance to be an every day player for the Gators baseball team.
Yet McMullen would have to wait just a little bit longer to see if he’d get a second chance to continue that first shot.
When the NCAA announced Tuesday that it was extending Division I spring athletes an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 wiping out the season, McMullen didn’t hesitate to make his decision.
“I’m definitely coming back,” McMullen said Wednesday. “I was going to come back, but was just waiting (on the NCAA’s announcement). I renewed my lease right away.”
Forgive McMullen — an Ocala native and Forest High School graduate who dreamed of donning the Orange and Blue since he was a young boy — for his excitement.
After three years on the roster where he had a total of 31 at-bats and 45.1 innings pitched as a reliever, McMullen emerged from fall ball in 2019 as Florida’s top choice at third base. Coming out of Forest in 2016 as a pitcher and outfielder and not having played the infield in quite a few years, it was a surprise development to say the least.
McMullen played 16 of the Gators’ 17 games in 2020 before the season ended for No. 1 Florida, where he manned the hot corner and batted cleanup for the team.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound infielder batted .278 with a home run, four doubles and 10 RBIs, while also leading the team with 14 walks drawn. McMullen was also hit four times, which also contributed to a .458 on-base percentage — second on the squad.
“I felt I swung it pretty good,” McMullen said. “I was comfortable up there, and I definitely wanted the season to keep on going.”
Still, it’s a career to date that has had its share of rollercoaster-like moments.
As a freshman, McMullen was a part of the Gators’ 2017 College World Series championship team where his biggest moment came in the NCAA regionals. He got his only career start on the mound and tossed 2.2 scoreless innings against Bethune Cookman to punch Florida’s ticket to the Super Regionals.
In the field as a sophomore and junior, McMullen saw one start in the field while appearing in 34 total games. He took the mound an additional 17 times in 2018 and 2019 over the course of 23.1 innings.
Despite not being regularly featured, McMullen never once wavered in his commitment to Florida. When asked if he considered transferring, his answer was an emphatic no.
“I was born a Gator, and that’s the only school I’ve ever wanted to go to,” McMullen said. “My entire family has been Gators, especially living 40 minutes away in Ocala.
“There are people who aren’t happy or aren’t playing … and they are either transferring or thought about it,” he continued. “That thought never crossed my mind.
His commitment to Florida ended up being rewarded. Figuring he would be getting some at-bats as a designated hitter in his senior season, McMullen got a further surprise in the fall.
He said UF’s practices are game-like scrimmages and there was the opening at third base.
“What happened was, they needed someone to play third base and Lars (Davis, a volunteer assistant coach) makes the lineup and just kind of threw me over there.
“By midweek of fall ball, I’m playing third base, and that’s where I ended up staying.”
While it wasn’t his best position, McMullen took the challenge and ran with it, as you imagine someone who was aching to play regularly would have.
“Wherever they put me, I would have been very satisfied,” McMullen said.
Yet prior to finding out he’d get an extra year from the NCAA, it seemed like fate might play another cruel joke on McMullen.
First, the SEC schedule was postponed, meaning there was a chance McMullen and his teammates wouldn’t get to play in arguably college baseball’s top conference. Then later, the entire season was canceled outright.
“It was really heartbreaking,” McMullen said. “Some of the relationships we have together, we realized we’re not going to be able to play with each other again.”
While the postponement of the season definitely bummed out the entire team, the ability to come back in 2021 has a pair of pretty nice silver linings for McMullen.
He’ll get to play with his brother Hunter, a UF right-handed pitcher who was in the process of missing the 2020 season due to injury. Kirby and Hunter’s parents are both graduates of the University of Florida.
“It’s pretty special,” McMullen said. “I’ve always grown up playing with my brother. It’s really neat. Not a lot of people get to play at the University of Florida, especially with their brother.”
Kirby will also get to play in the Gators’ brand new stadium, which is slated to open in 2021. He called the ability to potentially do that “freaking awesome.”
Still, if there’s one thing McMullen has learned from his team as a Division I baseball player for one of the premier programs in college baseball, it’s that no spot is guaranteed.
“This spot was not given to me, it’s not set in stone,” McMullen said. “I have to go out and earn it all over again.”
With Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent stay-at-home order for the state of Florida, it also makes things even more difficult to stay in great baseball shape.
“It’s going to make it difficult,” McMullen acknowledged. “I’ve been working out in my garage and staying in good physical shape.
“But I have to do everything I can to make sure my on-the-field skills stay sharp.”
Regardless of what obstacles get in his way, it’d be hard to bet against Kirby McMullen keeping focused and doing whatever it took to continue his dream.