If you were in Gainesville in 2005, you know the Era of Champions started with Gator Baseball. In 2005, the Gators won the SEC, ultimately losing the College World Series to a MLB-ready Texas. The manager of that team, Pat McMahon, is now coaching in the Yankees' farm system. The magic that was in McKethan Stadium in 2005 has been missing, but this crop of Gators has the talent to win.
Talent can only take you so far, so it is something that Brandon McArthur will be returning for a sixth year. After almost being killed by a sucker punch outside of Grog House as a freshman, McArthur has struggled with injuries and switched positions to stay with the club. That the story is how long McArthur has been with Florida is a shame. Perhaps this is the season he is healthy and sprays line drives, so we can stop talking about his previous struggles.
McArthur provides leadership when some was lost after the removal of senior pitcher Stephen Locke after a DUI arrest. Despite his youth, Cole Figueroa was a leader at shortstop, but he is gone to the majors. Pitcher Tampa Tommy Toledo, last year's Alligator Army Official Man-Crush (sorry, C.I.), is out for the entire season with an arm injury. Outfielders Matt den Dekker and Avery Barnes will provide much of the offense, with sophomore 3B Josh Adams being the third best hitter. Florida's power numbers have never been fantastic (humid air keeps the ball down), but not one Gator had double digit homers.
The opening rotation for this weekend against Louisville is senior Patrick Keating (8-1, 4.16) and two freshmen; Alex Panteliodis and Nick Maronde. Panteliodis was the top player in Hillsborough County in 2008 (Alonso High School) and Maronde was Baseball America's 19th best prospect.
Florida will begin the season with two national powerhouses, as Miami follows next weekend in Gainesville.