Florida baseball: Matt LaPorta happy for Jac Caglianone, enjoying life after baseball

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Jeremy Foley, the former longtime UF athletic director, and Matt LaPorta, the former Gators baseball player and major leaguer, joke with each other during the ground breaking ceremony for the new University of Florida baseball stadium off Hull Road and IFAS Research Drive on the UF campus in Gainesville Feb. 8, 2019.   [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

During a stellar Florida baseball career, Matt LaPorta set a home run record that helped lead the Gators to the College World Series.

A slugging first baseman/outfielder, LaPorta belted 26 home runs for the Gators in 2005, a year that ended with the Florida going to Omaha and advancing to the College World Series finals before falling to Texas.

Last year, Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford matched the mark. This year, Florida first baseman/pitcher Jac Caglianone is on the verge of eclipsing it. Caglianone tied the mark with his 26th homer on Tuesday night against Florida State and has nine games left in the regular season to break it, beginning Friday at Texas A&M (7 p.m., SEC Network Plus).

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LaPorta said he’s a fan of Caglianone and is pulling for him to break the mark

“He’s a Tampa guy,” LaPorta said. “I live here in Tampa so it’s kind of fun to see a local kid doing great things.

“I mean, yeah, I’m excited for him. He’s got a great swing. Big kid, you know he’s going to have a lot of success in college and I think that will translate into professional ball and into the big leagues.”

September 13, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta (7) is greeted by left fielder Vinny Rottino (25) after hitting a two run homer against the Texas Rangers in the sixth inning at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

LaPorta said he’s not completely surprised his mark stood for 18 years. He led Division I college baseball in homers in 2005, just as Caglianone is currently college baseball’s home run leader.

“We had a good season, 26 was a lot, right,” LaPorta said. “There weren’t too many people passing that …

“It’s been great to have that honor. You know we had a great team in 2005, that was part of that journey, yeah it was. Records are meant to be broken and those two guys and Jac this year, is going to blow it out of the water probably.”

Most memorable homers

LaPorta said of his 26 homers in 2005, two stood out. One came at Vanderbilt, with the Gators battling for an SEC title. LaPorta had struck out his first two at-bats against starter Jensen Lewis. Before LaPorta’s third at-bat, Lewis intentionally walked Adam Davis in front of him to load the bases.

“Now mind you, I’m leading the country in home runs,” LaPorta said. “I’m hitting .340, .330.”

After fouling off two fastballs from Lewis, LaPorta didn’t miss the third one.

“He came inside again and he just missed and I unloaded on the ball and hit it on top of the basketball arena,” LaPorta said. “I walked to first base because, alright you are going to show me up, walk the guy in front of me when I’m leading the country in home runs.”

The grand slam put Florida up 4-0 in an eventual 5-4 win. Florida would go on to sweep Vanderbilt and win the SEC title.

“We had a lot of talent,” LaPorta said. “We just had a lot of guys get drafted, a lot of guys go play professional baseball. We jelled very well as a team. Again, we played as a team, and that’s what you have to do. It wasn’t just one individual person who had success.”

LaPorta’s second memorable homer of the season came at the College World Series against Arizona State. Facing relief pitcher Brett Bordes, LaPorta belted his 26th homer over the scoreboard at Rosenblatt Stadium, putting the Gators up 6-3 in a win that sent UF to the finals.

“He threw this slow breaking ball that was probably about two inches off the ground and I just golfed it out of the old stadium there,” LaPorta said. “It went out of the stadium, over the scoreboard. It was a good home run.”

From Gators to Majors

After batting .402 with 20 home runs to earn SEC player of the year honors for Florida in 2007, LaPorta was selected seventh overall in the June amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He shot up the minors quickly, and in 2008 was part of a trade to Cleveland in a move that sent star pitcher C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers.

In 2009, LaPorta made his Major League debut, finishing his rookie year batting .254 with 7 home runs and 21 RBI.

But hip issues plagued LaPorta throughout his big-league career. It began with surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip and progressed to an eventual hip replacement.

“It flared up after probably my second season, third season playing professionally and it's just one of those things,” LaPorta said. “The original issue was a torn labrum and they had to repair all that, did that deal and it just kind of, just had some unfortunate luck with it. Never quite got back to where we all had hoped it would be.”

LaPorta finished his MLB career with 31 homers and 120 RBI over parts of four seasons with Cleveland.

“Things got cut a little short but that’s part of life,” LaPorta said. “That’s part of the game, part of playing hard. So, I’m just grateful that I got to have that experience, that I got to achieve that dream. There were a lot of folks just as good as me that never got to achieve that.”

Life after baseball

LaPorta admitted the adjustment to the end of his baseball career was hard at first.

“There was definitely a loss there,” LaPorta said. “Not being able to play, not being able to play the game you love. Physically, outside of your hip you knew you could still compete, mentally you could compete … and then trying to just re-establish yourself, OK, what am I going to do now, what am I going to do next? I’ve played baseball my whole life and here I am, 31.”

 A connection from a rival school helped LaPorta find a new profession. Former Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford, a close friend, steered LaPorta into the private equity business. He’s now a private equity investor at A111 Capital in Tampa.

“I was fortunate that I had some good mentors and good people around me, that helped me get into the private equity space, showed me a little bit of the ropes and I love the space,” LaPorta said. “I love private equity. We focus on the lower middle market, controlled buyouts and operating businesses, so it’s a great space.”

Life now revolves around career and family. LaPorta married his college sweetheart, former UF All-American pole vaulter Dara Altman, and the couple have four children ranging in age from 11 to 6.

LaPorta remains a big Gators baseball fan.

 “We bring the kids up, we go watch games, every year,” LaPorta said. “This year we haven’t, unfortunately, our schedules have just been so full. But we like to get up there and watch them play once or twice a year.”