GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After the Florida Gators claimed the program’s first College World Series championship Tuesday night, the players, their families and whoever else was around gathered in the lobby of the team hotel in Omaha, Neb., to relive the biggest win in program history.
Still buzzing from that 6-1 victory against LSU to complete a two-game sweep of the Tigers in the championship series, the adrenaline hadn’t quite dissipated for anybody just yet.
“I was watching the game over and I was getting nervous in the seventh and eighth thinking that the outcome might change,” shortstop Dalton Guthrie said a day later. “We all were going crazy watching the highlights. It was pretty cool. … All the family, a bunch of players and stuff, some LSU fans who weren’t happy.”
How long did that postgame celebration continue, Guthrie was asked.
“Late. It was late,” he said smiling.
And it continued into Wednesday evening as the Gators returned home to Gainesville and were welcomed back to McKethan Stadium by a loud and proud contingent of fans, filling about three-fourths of the ballpark and reveling in the breakthrough championship for this Florida baseball program.
After video highlights from the team’s postseason run played on the stadium’s video board, the players streamed through an inflatable Gator tunnel with star pitcher Alex Faedo carrying the College World Series trophy.
Watch the Gators return home to McKethan Stadium to celebrate their College World Series championship.
Posted by Florida Gators Insiders on Wednesday, June 28, 2017
“These fans deserve it. Gator Nation, it’s the best school in the country in my opinion. They needed this. It took a little too long, but hopefully we’re starting a little legacy,” he had said prior to the ceremony.
Truth be told, the legacy has been there. Coach Kevin O’Sullivan has made Florida as consistent a national contender as there is in the country, earning six College World Series appearances in the last eight years.
But yes, this was different. Leaving Omaha as the last team standing, one night of celebration running into the next, bringing the trophy back to Gainesville, this was unmatched.
For that matter, this team was different. That’s the way O’Sullivan described it.
“It’s a gritty group. The togetherness that these guys displayed was just incredible. We’ve always had talented teams, but this one was just a little bit different,” he said in addressing the fans.
O’Sullivan tried his best not to take any share of the credit, but those who follow this program appreciate the mark he’s left on Florida baseball, the identity and standard of success he’s created over 10 years now.
The fans chanted “Sully” as he took the microphone. They broke into cheers when Gators broadcaster Jeff Cardozo, who conducted interviews with Faedo, fellow pitcher Brady Singer, catcher Mike Rivera and O’Sullivan for the fans as part of the ceremony, talked about former athletic director Jeremy Foley and longtime Gators executive associate athletic director Chip Howard hiring an assistant coach from Clemson a decade ago and putting the future of the program in his hands.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, thanked his assistant coaches Craig Bell and Brad Weitzel — who have been with him the whole time here — and volunteer assistant Lars Davis and his support staff. And the former players who laid the foundation for what this current group of Gators accomplished this week in Omaha.
“I don’t know how many text messages one phone can hold, but before I came back over here I got a text from Alex Panteliodis, a great pitcher for us. Congratulated us. I haven’t had a chance to look at all my texts, but my message back to him was he laid the foundation,” O’Sullivan said. “So many players that had come through here even before we were here that laid the foundation and put Florida on the map and made it an attractive job to attract these guys to come to school here.”
He wasn’t the only one with an overload of text messages waiting for him. Infielder Christian Hicks said he heard from former classmates he hadn’t talked to since high school who, like so many others, had been watching the Gators’ incredible postseason run.
“It’s still pretty surreal,” Hicks said. “I didn’t really sleep much last night. I [was] still kind of in a haze after the game, but I’m sure in a couple days it will sink in.”
That was the general sentiment among the players and their coach.
O’Sullivan said he got “thrown back into reality” a little bit Wednesday, picking up all the mail he’s missed in the last two weeks, dealing with laundry and all the tasks that come along with being back home. But that doesn’t mean this has all hit him yet.
Maybe in a few days. Maybe next week. Eventually.
“I’m still kind of numb, to be honest with you. It really hasn’t really sunk in yet. There’s a lot of emotions, a lot of thoughts,” he said. “Like I said, to see them have the opportunity to be the first team to win a championship, I don’t think they quite understand it yet, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now, the brotherhood that they’ve established, there will never be another team that did this the first time. … I know these guys will understand this 10, 20 years down the road how special this really is.”
In the meantime, the Gators are simply basking in the glow of this championship as the well-earned celebration continues.