Gators' Tim Walton a king of softball, thanks to pretzel-wrapper crown and 1,000 victories

Ainslie Lee
Gator Sports

Just hours after watching his team pull off a gritty series-clinching win over LSU, Florida softball coach Tim Walton was crowned king on Sunday night while aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Louisiana back to Florida.

With the help of Southwest's staff, Walton's head was adorned with a crown made out of emptied pretzel wrappers to celebrate his 1,000th career coaching win. 

The celebration was initially slated for much more, Walton laughed Tuesday. 

"The lady had a disco ball, she had a sound bar and all of a sudden I hear my name to come up front," Walton said. "Dancing wasn't going to happen. No shot."

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Tim Walton got some advice from Mike Candrea

Walton became the second-fastest college softball coach to reach the No. 1,000 milestone — coming second to perhaps college softball's first king, Arizona's Mike Candrea. 

Coming second to Candrea, like the pretzel-wrapper crown, it was fitting. 

After playing college baseball for Cerritos College and the University of Oklahoma, Walton went on to join the Philadelphia Phillies and played in their minor-league organization for two seasons before returning to Norman, Okla. 

Oklahoma softball coach Patty Gasso, who is in her 28th season this year, hired Walton away from coaching baseball and gave the former pitcher a spot on her coaching staff. Fortunately for Walton, who had never coached softball, Gasso had a how-to resource ready for him. 

"Ironically, she gave me a video... a VHS tape," Walton said. "It was Mike Candrea."

The day after watching the tape, which included the phone number to Candrea's office, Walton gave the Arizona coach a dial. Candrea, who was in his 13th season at Arizona at the time, picked up and gave the green softball coach 45 minutes of his time. 

Before retiring at the conclusion of last season, Candrea accumulated 1,674 career wins and eight national championships. 

"To hear the question of, 'Hey, you're the second-fastest coach in NCAA history to reach 1,000 and first is Mike Candrea' was probably one of the most crazy eerie ... very proud feelings," Walton said. 

Win No. 1,001 might not come easy

The Gators hit the road on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPNU) to take on the third-ranked Florida State Seminoles in game two of the two-game Sunshine Showdown. 

"Big game... obviously in Tallahassee," Walton said. "Both of us are in the top-nine RPI, so definitely a good game for the winner to help improve their chances of postseason, hosting and all that stuff."

If the rematch is anything like the series' opening game, it's one to watch. 

The Gators fell to the 'Noles back on April 6 as Florida State's Sydney Sherrill sent a solo moonshot over the right-field wall in the top of the 10th inning, followed by an insurance RBI from Kalei Harding to give FSU the 4-2 win. 

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That was the first of just three extra-inning contests for Florida, with Sunday's nine-inning win over LSU being the third. 

Florida senior Cheyenne Lindsey delivered the game-winning heroics on Sunday with a solo home run in the top of the ninth to give the Gators a one-run advantage. Lindsey's bomb came on the heels of going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on the day. 

"That's so fitting for this team to have that moment and to reach 1,000 wins in the process," Walton said. "This isn't the kind of team that's going to win every game. But, with that being said, this is the kind of team that can win a championship easily if they believe in it, they come together and we get hot. ... This is the kind of team, in my mind, that has the ability to beat anybody."

Each day an opportunity for Walton

Not every day has been as joyous as Sunday for the Gators' skipper. 

After beating Alabama 12-7 on April 11 to avoid being swept by the Crimson Tide, Walton addressed how this season hasn't been easy. 

The Gators, who are ranked No. 10 in the nation, hold a record of 38-13 with a SEC record of 13-11. This follows a season that saw Florida finish 45-11, 19-5 in the SEC and claim the SEC regular-season title. 

"The whole season has beat me down," Walton said. "It's just not the same that I want it to be."

In that interview last month, Walton said that for the first time since his last spring training program in 1997, he's started running. There haven't been too many seasons in Walton's career that have triggered an increase in his cardio regimen. 

Working in a profession that hinges heavily on the performances of college-aged individuals undoubtedly comes with frustrations. 

"Every day is a new day. Every day is an energetic day. Whatever you think the day is going to be, it's never what you scripted it to be," Walton said. 

But for Walton, who says he rarely feels like he's coming to "work", the reward has overpowered the days, weeks or months that might lead him to lacing up his running shoes more often. 

"Overall, the good has always outweighed the bad," Walton said. "But I look at every day as an opportunity to learn something new and figure out how to challenge it."