There are few things in my life that truly cause an emotional reaction, but two of them are baseball (I will cry at the drop of Ken Burns "Baseball") and when Florida plays Florida State (I will fight you).
Tuesday night, your No. 1 Gators (7-0) face the No. 11 Seminoles (7-0) at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Alligator Army will be there, screaming obscenities at a college baseball game, because damn it, that is what we do.
The Gators have rolled through their first seven games, sweeping USF to start the season and Boston College last weekend, with a thrashing of FAU in-between. The Gators already have two shutouts this season, which is impressive until you realize that UF has not allowed more than three runs all season. And that was in a 9-3 win against BC.
That has led to a gaudy 1.43 ERA for the Gators. In tonight's game, Tampa Tommy Toledo (0.00 ERA in four innings) gets the start, which is a sign that this is still a mid-week game. Toledo is a fine pitcher, but for Florida to beat FSU tonight and in their other three meetings, they need pitching depth. It's early, but the Gators have a pitching staff that the Yankees would kill for. When Toledo, a stud prospect, is the mid-week/long reliever guy, the Gators have a wealth of riches that was predicted at the beginning of the season.
With the changes to the aluminum bat (which makes it more like a wood bat), offensive numbers might be down too. Plus, pitchers are usually a step ahead of batters to start the season. But that does not seem to have impacted Preston Tucker, who is hitting .448 with two homers and nine RBI this season. The Gators have three regulars hitting better than .400 (Daniel Pigott, Tucker, Nolan Fontana). They also have Brian Johnson performing an awesome Babe Ruth in 1918 impression (.385 BA/.577 SLG/.429 OBP in seven games; 2-0, 0.00 ERA).
As fantastic as Florida can and should be, FSU is the team that knocked them out of the College World Series last year. Senior Mike McGee is again raking (.440 BA, 11 RBI, two homers) and FSU has three regulars hitting better than .400 (McGee, OF James Ramsey, 3b Sherman Johnson). The only time the Noles have been shutdown this season was when they lost to the Phillies last week. FSU's 1.29 ERA is also fairly impressive, but you decide if their victories over VMI, Jacksonville and Hofstra is as good as Florida's early season schedule. They will throw righty Scott Sitz (1-0, 0.00), who has allowed four hits in six innings this season.
The Gators and Seminoles will have a home-and-home, plus a game in Jacksonville remaining on the schedule. One loss either way won't impact the long term goals of each team. But tonight's game will set the tone for 2011 for two teams who should be in Omaha in June.