Baseball

Mt. Rushmore: Gators Baseball

Photo by J. Meric / Getty Images

In recent years, Florida fans look forward to spring nearly as much as fall with their stellar teams on the diamond. Florida baseball and all its success has outgrown its old stadium and has earned a new ball park with a proposed budget of $65 million. Through the years, there have been some elite faces that have ran the bases for the Gators; with four of them earning a spot in the Mt. Rushmore of Florida baseball. 

Brad Wilkerson – 1996-1998

Brad Wilkerson was the star of Andy Lopez’s first team at Florida. Known for his line drive hitting and versatility in the field, Wilkerson was Mr. Baseball in Gainesville during his college career; which only lasted three years as he forewent his senior year to head to the MLB. 

Wilkerson sits at number one in the Gator record book for the best batting average through his career with a .381. Wilkerson also sits comfortably at number two for runs batted in with a whopping 239. 

Wilkerson’s success continued onto the pitching mound where he is number six in Gator baseball history for wins, with 26 and strikeouts with 292. 

Given his ability to put up impressive statistics, Wilkerson was a three time first team all-American while at Florida and even earned himself the NCBWA Player of the Year in 1998. Climbing to the top of the record books once again, Wilkerson topped his career with becoming the first Gator to be inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. 

Mike Zunino – 2010-2012

Mike Zunino got to join Kevin O’Sullivan’s Gators just two years into “Sully’s” tenure at Florida. It came to no surprise that Sullivan, a former catcher at his alma mater Virginia, developed Zunino into a stud behind the plate. 

Despite being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2009, Zunino decided to join the Gators in 2010. During his time at Florida, Zunino helped the Gators to three consecutive College World Series appearances. 

While Zunino’s name is found in the team’s record book at number five for home runs and number three for fielding percentage, his career is highlighted by the hardware he took home. 

In 2012, Zunino became the first Gator to win the Dick Howser award which is bestowed to the National Baseball Player of the Year. In 2018, Gator ace, Brady Singer joined Zunino in winning the award for Florida. Zunino also won Baseball America’s Player of the Year in 2012 before being drafted by the Seattle Mariners with the 3rdoverall pick in the 2012 MLB draft. 

Matt LaPorta – 2004-2007

During his time at Florida, every Gator baseball fan knew exactly who Matt LaPorta was. Whenever he’d come to the plate, one side of McKethan Stadium would yell “La!” while the other side responded with “Porta!”.

Whether it was the crowd’s energy or LaPorta’s sheer talent, LaPorta would eventually send a pitch well outside of the park. In fact, during his career at Florida he sent 74 pitches over the wall, making him the school record holder for most home runs. 

In 2005, LaPorta led division I baseball with 26 home runs as he helped take the Gators to the College World Series Final where the Gators were shocked by the Texas Longhorns. Nonetheless, LaPorta’s impressive sophomore year was enough to get him first team all-American honors. 

Despite a rocky junior year, LaPorta was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, but ultimately decided to stay at Florida to finish out his senior year. As a senior, LaPorta batted a .402 and tallied 20 home runs with a season’s performance that won himself the 2007 SEC Player of the Year. 

Mark Ellis – 1996-1998

Florida’s version of Ellis Island came on the baseball diamond with Mark Ellis’ elite fielding capabilities. While Ellis was on a team stacked with elite ball players, he was often overshadowed. Nonetheless, the man of Ellis Island still made marks in the Gator record books. 

During his three year career at Florida, Ellis captured the number one spot in the record books for most runs scored with 240. Offensively, Ellis also sits at number eight for homeruns with 36 and number nine for RBIs with 164. 

Perhaps the most storied stretch of Ellis’s career was the 1998 postseason where he lead the Gators to Omaha with 14 hits. Adding to the post season drama, Ellis recorded each of those 14 hits on a broken foot. 

*Inspired by Steve Russell’s radio show, Sports Scene, we have opted to determine the Mount Rushmore of each UF program that we cover. Let us know if you agree or if there are any omissions.
Also, we chose to omit coaches intentionally and will do a totally separate post on the top coaches at UF.

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