GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan has not needed an alarm clock these past few weeks.
As the Gators made their run through the College World Series that culminated in Florida’s first national baseball title, O’Sullivan also had his two children on hand in Omaha, Neb. — just like he has all season.
Energetic 4-year-old Finn and 6-year-old Payton have been with the team since the beginning, laughing and cheering in the dugout and on the field while the Gators made their historic run.
“They’re bottles of joy, I guess you can say,” sophomore Michael Byrne said. “Finn brought energy and Payton brought happiness.”
And the Florida baseball team took them in as their own. Finn and Payton played active roles with the Gators all season while adding an extra sense of whimsy and fun during a trying season for the 2017 Florida baseball team that ultimately ended with a national championship.
“It’s hard to describe in words,” O’Sullivan said. “To be able to first have a job at Florida and to be able to experience this with my kids is undescribable. There’s things that happen that just put a smile on your face.”
Any regular spectator saw O’Sullivan’s children roaming the field throughout the season.
Finn could be seen anywhere on the field in his No. 1/2 jersey while the team warmed up. He has his own locker in the Gators’ clubhouse. He blasted balls past the infield during batting practice when he took underhanded pitches from either his dad or volunteer assistant coach Lars Davis.
“He can hit,” sophomore pitcher Brady Singer said. “And Sully is teaching him everything he knows. It’s scary.”
A little more than halfway through the season, Finn started walking up to the pregame umpire meetings with his dad. On at least one occasion after calls didn’t go Florida’s way, Finn asked the umpires if they were going to listen to his dad this time.
“You never know what quite is going to come out of his mouth at home plate,” O’Sullivan said. “We all had a little bit of a chuckle there.”
Sometimes, Finn fielded ground balls with shortstop Dalton Guthrie during warmups. Other times, he was with Nick Horvath in center field. Other times, he was playing catch with Byrne or Blake Reese down the left-field line or hitting imaginary pitches from Alex Faedo in the dugout or playing tag with third baseman Jonathan India.
But most of the time, he was looking for JJ Schwarz.
“If you ever see [Finn], he’ll probably ask you where JJ is about 20 times,” second baseman Deacon Liput said.
Schwarz added: “He keeps it super light. Sully’s always in a good mood when Finn’s around. We like hanging out with him. He’s always there, always smiling.”
Payton was there, too. Normally wearing an orange or blue dress and sandals, she ran around with her brother during pregame warmups or interviewed players in the dugout. Prior to Florida’s run in the College World Series, she drew her dad a Father’s Day picture that hung in the dugout at TD Ameritrade Park throughout the tournament.
— Laura Rutledge (@LauraMRutledge) June 18, 2017
On a few occasions this year, she was Florida’s Junior Voice of the Game, serving as the public address announcer for half an inning and introducing each Florida player to the McKethan Stadium crowd as he stepped up to the plate. She pronounced every player’s name with ease, even Mark Kolozsvary.
For a brief stint, she joined her dad and little brother in the umpire meetings. Both kids also made the occasional guest appearance in dad’s postgame interviews.
— Jordan McPherson (@J_McPherson1126) February 26, 2017
They were both on the field and in pictures at McKethan Stadium after the Gators won a share of the SEC regular-season championship back in May. A month later, they were on the field at TD Ameritrade Park as the Gators celebrated a national championship.
All told, the two bundles of energy and optimism helped keep the Gators loose and relaxed throughout the season.
“It kind of takes the edge off,” Schwarz said.
The Gators could have been on edge at various points this season.
Like when they were swept by Auburn to open SEC play.
Or when injuries plagued players for weeks at a time throughout conference play.
Or when players went through slumps.
Or when they were one game away from being eliminated in the NCAA Tournament on three separate occasions.
But having Finn and Payton by their side helped the team through the tough situations and realize that the occasional loss or bad at-bat means nothing in the grand scheme of things.
“It helped us realize that it is a game,” Liput said. “Throughout all the tense moments, you still have to take time to have fun and relax and enjoy the moment.”
And as the Florida baseball team celebrated its first national championship with its fans on Wednesday, the Gators enjoyed the moment with their two extra supporters sitting by their sides.
“The players have been awesome,” O’Sullivan said. “They’ve taken both of my kids in. It’s a great experience.”