Florida baseball double threat Jac Caglianone really knows how to put on a show
Bring up the topic of Jac Caglianone, and people sound more like NASA fans than baseball fans.
They talk about the home runs he’s launched. Like the moonshot at Missouri, or the 462-foot blast against Cincinnati. Then there was the rocket that cleared the scoreboard at Tennessee.
The funny thing is Caglianone’s most famous home run was a low-orbit flare that landed a few feet beyond the left-field wall at Condron Family Ballpark on Sunday.
It wasn’t so much the swing as what happened afterward. It made headlines on a lot of news sites, but one stood out.
“NCAA baseball star Jac Caglianone mocks umpire’s ejection of Florida teammate for celebrating strikeout by hilariously walking like a ROBOT after huge grand slam.”
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That was the headline in the Daily Mail. Yep, Gator baseball has made the British tabloids.
It’s believed to be a first for the program, but it may not be the last. Such is life with the burgeoning legend known as “Cags.”
“It’s quite exciting,” shortstop Josh Rivera said. “Everybody stops when he’s in the box. Everybody’s locked in and trying to see what’s going to happen.”
What’s happened so far is an NCAA-leading 22 home runs. At the rate he’s going, Caglianone will obliterate the school record of 26 that Wyatt Langford tied last year.
But what makes Caglianone truly unique is he’s also one of the No. 3-ranked Gators most talented pitchers. As with his hitting, Caglianone’s mound work must be witnessed to be truly appreciated.
It’s not every day you see a 6-foot-5, 245-pound lefthander whose fastball approaches 100 mph. The Cags package is completed by a lively personality.
Caglianone's zombie act an international sensation
It was a bit too lively on Sunday against Georgia, at least according to umpire Brian deBrauwere. He issued a warning after Caglianone stared at a batter following an inning-ending strikeout.
Zoom ahead to the eighth inning, when Georgia trailed 6-4 and had two men on base. Reliever Brandon Neely came in and got a strikeout to end the inning. He bounded off the mound, and yelled “C’mon!” toward the Georgia dugout.
The umpire threw Neely out of the game, much to the displeasure of coach Kevin O’Sullivan and about 6,000 fans. As showbiz luck would have it, Caglianone came up to bat with the bases loaded in the top of the 9th inning.
He nubbed (for him) the ball out of the park, rounded the bases, touched home plate and promptly started walking like a zombie toward the dugout, robotically low-fiving teammates lined up to congratulate him.
“The celebration was, you know, just because of Neely,” Caglianone said. “It’s kind of weird not to be able to have fun.”
The headline-making troll added to the growing Cags-mania. But beneath the fireworks, what explains this phenomenon?
“He will outwork everybody,” said his father, Jeff Caglianone.
He should know, having overseen the project from its inception. Jeff played baseball at Stetson and even coached the school’s women’s softball team as an undergrad.
He got a law degree from Stetson and set up a practice in Tampa. For years, he’d come home almost every night to a kid who’d bug him to go to the park to take batting practice or field grounders.
Jac (a nickname derived from the first letters of Jeffrey Alan Caglianone) could always smash the ball. But lanky lefties with nuclear arms are precious commodities, so scouts were more intrigued by Caglianone’s pitching potential.
Then, just a week after graduating from Plant High School in 2021, Caglianone felt a pop in his elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. That ruled out pitching for a year, but he recovered well enough to become UF’s designated hitter midway through last season.
Caglianone showed potential with seven home runs, but nobody expected the boom we’re witnessing in 2023.
“I came into the season like, ‘I want 15 and call it a day,' ” he said.
Comparisons to Shohei Ohtani ... and Babe Ruth
He got that on March 25, 57 days before the regular season ends. There are the inevitable Shohei Ohtani comparisons, though let’s not forget how Babe Ruth won 94 games as a pitcher.
Let’s also not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Caglianone is still very much a work in progress. He can lose the strike zone for extended spells, like when he walked six straight batters at Tennessee.
But he is 4-1 after Sunday’s performance against Georgia. He is on pace to 34 home runs in the regular season alone. And he’s already broken the school record for Headlines in British Tabloids.
So sit back and enjoy the Cags show. Like those home runs, there’s no telling how far this thing might go.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley