That calming word — famously spelled out by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers after a rough patch for the Packers that preceded a playoff run — was recently tweeted by Florida senior captain JJ Schwarz, just a day after the Gators were eliminated from the SEC Tournament by LSU.
R-E-L-A-X— JJ Schwarz (@usetheschwarz22) May 26, 2018
That loss to the Tigers marked the sixth in a seven-game span for UF, which produced some concern from fans who watched Florida run roughshod over the entire league this season. Florida won all but one weekend series and dominated in-state rivals Florida State and Miami en route to the No. 1 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Gators’ late-season swoon had some fans worried that they were slumping at the wrong time.
And part of that concern had to do with Schwarz’s most visible contribution of late being a tweet. Florida’s senior catcher and captain is nursing a small break in his hand, one that we often see in that chill, rock star-type position on his Instagram...
...after being hit by a pitch against Mississippi State, and starting pitchers Brady Singer and Tyler Dyson missed time in May with various ailments.
But Schwarz hasn’t seemed too worried about his injury — he could yet be available for Super Regional play, and Florida is one win away from that round after winning twice to begin the Gainesville Regional — or the team’s recent struggles. Heck, he really doesn’t seem too worried about much these days, thanks to a resurgent senior season that has made good on the promise of his scintillating freshman campaign.
He’s been r-e-l-a-x-e-d in the batter’s box all season, and that’s translated to a .325 batting average, 12 home runs, and 46 RBI — numbers that lag behind his own freshman marks (a ridiculous .332/18/73 line) and those being put up by Jonathan India and Wil Dalton, but numbers that mean Schwarz provides invaluable protection to Florida’s “Bash Brothers” when he’s in the lineup. Schwarz is also the first captain in Kevin O’Sullivan’s tenure, and has been a good one: His teammates look up to him, his pitchers trust him behind the dish, and fans have certainly enjoyed watching that powerful righty lash return to its freshman form.
As I like to put it, Schwarz’s aura is a hybrid of the two stud pitchers for whom he catches — he has Brady Singer’s intensity when he flips that switch, plus Jackson Kowar’s West Coast-instilled, laid-back vibe.
That’s why his aforementioned hand sign suits him so well. It was popularized by Black Sabbath’s Ronnie James Dio and used predominantly in the heavy metal scene of the 1980s, but JJ isn’t using it to rock out. His displayed subtly, below the shoulders, so as not to draw much attention. It mirrors his approach at the plate. His stance has always been quiet, but he’ll rip that heavy metal through the zone when a pitch leaks over the heart of the plate.
And after the power chords of his freshman year, Schwarz has quietly compiled one of the greatest careers in school history. He’s started more games as a Gator than anyone, and is second in RBI, third in hits, fourth in homers, and fourth in doubles — all to go with a .992 career fielding percentage (tied for sixth) while mostly playing the game’s most demanding defensive position. And though his sophomore and junior campaigns were regressions from that legendary first spring, nearly going undrafted in 2017 has fueled him in a senior spring that has seemed cathartic for him above all else.
I believe it takes an advanced level of maturity for someone to turn down the dollars and come back to school for one more go ‘round. (Jalen Hudson just did that, mind.) JJ Schwarz has used his final months on campus to soak in his surroundings, understanding how much it has molded him.
We should do the same as the captain looks for one more ‘ship.
And we should root hard for Florida to advance far enough to get him back on board.