Around this time last year, Peter Alonso was gearing up for his sophomore season.
After starting 58 games at Florida as a freshman and hitting .264 with 32 RBIs, Alonso was looking to build on his solid first campaign.
But three days before the Gators’ season opener against Rhode Island, Alonso broke his right foot, sidelining him for the first 30 games.
He returned in April, but during a batting-practice session one month later, a baseball hit the Tampa native in the face and broke his nose. As a result, he wore a distinctive facemask for the rest of the season.
The facemask didn’t faze him, though. Alonso just wanted to get out on the diamond and contribute to the team.
"I mean, it really wasn’t that big of a deal once I got used to it," Alonso said, "but I just wanna get out there, have fun and play the game I love."
Facemask or not, Alonso turned into one of UF’s better players in the second half of last season. He finished 2015 hitting .301, including a .340 clip during the postseason — the second-highest postseason average for the Gators. He'll look to continue that success from late last season when No. 1 UF opens the 2016 season Friday against Florida Gulf Coast.
"It felt really good," Alonso said of his second half play. "It was kind of like getting the monkey off my back because before missing the first 30 games and then with the broken foot and then having to deal with the whole broken nose and playing with the mask."
Alonso built up much-needed momentum after last season ended. He spent his time during the offseason trying to improve his game.
Keeping things simple has been a focal point.
"Just not really trying to do anything too much," Alonso said. "Just stay consistent where I was having a good load, be on time and pick out good pitches to swing at and play good defense."
He’s also expected to provide protection in the lineup for JJ Schwarz. Schwarz took the college baseball world by storm last year, hitting 18 home runs and driving in 73 runs.
Teams will approach Schwarz differently because of his success last year. But his loss might be his teammate's gain. Alonso will have the chance to see more hittable pitches and his production might increase.
And having the potential of inserting Alonso behind Schwarz gives the Gators an element that many other teams simply don’t have: power in the middle of the lineup.
"One of the hardest things to get into school is a guy with power because it’s a very, very hard commodity to find," UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. "So having Pete right there in the middle of the lineup to give you that power potential with JJ, there’s not a lot of teams on our level that have the luxury to have guys with that kind of power.
"So I’m hoping he stays healthy. We need him to stay healthy for a whole year for us to be as good as we want to be."
Now, just two days away from Florida’s season opener against Florida Gulf Coast, Alonso is in a position he wasn’t in last year. He’s healthy and he’s ready for the season to get underway.
"It’s really really nice to go into the season healthy and ready to win some games," Alonso said.