Gator Nation News

Five Things Missed at the Big Dance

Softball head coach Tim Walton (left) led the Gators to 10 Women's College World Series appearances -- two of which they won the national title. UF baseball head coach Kevin O'Sullivan led his team to the NCAA tournament seven times.

From two bat-and-ball coaches, an ode to the season that wasn’t

This almost never happens in the button-down world of Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan: He caught himself looking ahead.

“I never do that,” he said. “But we won the first 16 games and I started thinking that this team has a chance to win it all.”

Unfortunately, nobody had any chance to win it all this year in baseball. Or softball.

The two ultra-successful UF sports that use balls and bats were canceled by the pandemic that shut down everything for months. The two coaches of those teams never got an opportunity to make their favorite trips of the postseason: O’Sullivan to Omaha; Tim Walton to Oklahoma City.

The two cities in the Midwest have a lot in common, especially being the hosts to each sport’s College World Series. And the two coaches have been to a combined 17 of them, 10 by Walton.

Walton has two national titles, O’Sullivan one. This year, they had to punt the dreams of a celebration.

Baseball was 16-1 when sports were shut down, softball was 23-4. There were no guarantees of a charter flight to their versions of the Big Dance. But you liked their chances.

There are only memories to cherish.

And I brought them up to both coaches. Not about the actual games, but the experiences of being on the biggest stages for their sports.

So, here are the five things O’Sullivan will miss the most about another trip to Omaha:

The Gators always stay within walking distance of TD Ameritrade Park and it’s only a few blocks to downtown Omaha.

“I love the horse cart rides,” O’Sullivan said. “I took my mom on one in 2017 and the kids love them. They have golf cart rides, too.

“Downtown Omaha is almost like a hidden gem.”

Every time Florida makes the tournament, there is a tradition before the Gators start playing.

“The pre-tournament dinner,” he said. “It’s always some great steak restaurant. It’s always amazing.”

The first practice on the playing field in Omaha is a different animal. Those of us in the media are on the field watching the team workout and interviewing player after player and they are all in good moods because they are in Omaha.

“That’s always a special day,” O’Sullivan said. “You see all of the players with microphones on and they are just having a blast.

“You also see a bunch of people you haven’t seen in awhile. It’s just so much fun.”

This one isn’t a surprise. “The first pitch of the first game,” Sully said. “All of the work you have done all year just to get to that place. … And you are finally out here and here we go.”

The press room isn’t the biggest in the world, and it’s in the bowels of the stadium. But O’Sullivan loves it.


“There is no better feeling than doing a press conference after a win,” he said. “There is a sense of joy and a sense of relief.”

For Walton, the Women’s CWS is at the Hall of Fame for women’s softball and ― like the UF baseball team ― is played in the biggest stadium the women see all year.

Here are the five things Walton will miss the most about another trip to Oklahoma City:

When Walton decided to take the Florida job in 2006 after a three-year stint at Wichita State, he had to promise his wife Samantha that the family would return to their home state of Oklahoma every year.

And the postseason has helped him live up to that promise.

“Every time we get on that awesome charter flight to go out there, we know we’re going to see her family, see my family, see so many friends,” he said. “That’s the hardest part, not being able to go see so many people.”

Walton pitched at Oklahoma, his wife played basketball at Oral Roberts.

It’s one of the traditions at the WCWS.

“You walk onto the field for your game, down the right field or left field line, to occupy your dugout,” Walton said. “And you see our players high-fiving all of the little girls who are hanging over the fence. That’s special.”

The drive in is only 12 minutes from Bricktown (downtown Oklahoma City) to the stadium.

“The first drive on that first game day, you get there and you go down I-35 to NE 50th, going the back way,” he said. “You come in that back gate and you see how many people are there to watch softball. It’s a packed house, especially if there is a game before yours.

“You don’t realize how incredible the feeling is until you experience it.”

Since 2013, Walton has been able to work out something different for his players because of a connection he has with the minor league baseball team in Oklahoma City.

“We get to take early batting practice at Bricktown Stadium,” he said. “A lot of big league baseball players have passed through there. It’s really cool.”

Two words.

“Fuzzy’s Tacos,” Walton said. “Right there on the canal. It’s the best. And it’s a great place for us all to get together, the players and their families. Love Fuzzy’s Tacos.”