Gators Ready for Lights to Turn on for Final Season at McKethan Stadium

Credit: Zach Goodall - Sports Illustrated Media

Zach Goodall

GAINESVILLE, Fla -- Florida Gators pitcher Trey Van Der Weide had a smile come across his face at the idea of opening night.

The graduate transfer from USC Upstate was brought in to aid Florida's pitching woes that limited the Gators from advancing to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, last season. Van Der Weide put together a 4.76 ERA over 62 games (14 starts) with 130 strikeouts in over 153 innings pitched during his career with the Spartans.

Even a year removed from missing the World Series, Van Der Wiede suffered from a bit of culture shock by the mantra of the team. The expectation is always Omaha.

"Coming from the school I was at the past couple of years, it was kind of would have been a miracle if we had done it, Van Der Weide told the media before practice on Tuesday.

"I think it was the first or second practice we broke it down on 'Omaha, one-two-three', and I kind of broke it and was like 'Dang, we actually are expected to go. We have a shot', that was really an eye-opening experience."

Van Der Weide quickly bought in.

It's this mindset that the Gators have engrained in their heads as they enter the team's final season at McKethan Stadium at Perry Field. At this time next year, the Gators will be preparing to host their first opening night at the new, $65 million Florida Ballpark.

The Gators would like to leave "The Mac" with a better showing than what the 2019 season provided, however. The team fell short of that goal with a loss to Dallas Baptist in the Lubbock Regional tournament, but have since put that in the rear-view mirror as the young core of the team has gotten a year older.

"I think last year, we were just young," junior pitcher Jordan Butler said.

"My freshman year, we were led by Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, Jonathan India and Deacon Liput, and all the older guys. So we had somewhat of a standard to live up to as a team, and I think last year we let our youth get in the way of success."

Now, the Gators are returning six position starters and eleven pitchers, the high-potential youth having a year of experience in their pocket, and the addition of Van Der Weide is a cherry on top.

"I think we are going to be a lot better this year. We have a lot more older faces," Butler continued. 

Those older faces, especially in the pitching rotation, will be depended on to meet the team's goals of getting to Omaha.

"That's the goal every year, year in and year out," said manager Kevin O'Sullivan. 

"We need to worry about what the lineup is going to ultimately look like before we get to SEC play, and hopefully our starting pitching will get off to a good start, and we need to shore down our bullpen. We have enough pieces, I just quite honestly don't know how the whole thing is going to shake out, so we'll try different things as we go along."

O'Sullivan noted that there are 13 to 14 hitters that the team likes through offseason training, which will allow the Gators to get creative with their lineup and build depth. He is optimistic that the bullpen is headed in the right direction as well, with the edition of Van Der Weide to the backend of the bullpen, as well as freshman Hunter Barco.

"I do like our roster, the fact of the matter is, we've got to be able to go out there and perform when the lights go on Friday night."