Wyatt Langford blistered his 26th home run of the year in his final plate appearance of the season, matching the single-season home run record that was set by Matt LaPorta when he was just 2 years old.
UF trailed by two in the bottom of the ninth to Oklahoma, needing a pair of runs to stave off elimination. The sophomore left fielder approached the plate.
Pitch one of the at-bat, strike.
Pitch two, see you later.
Langford’s record-tying bomb soared into right-center field and into the orange-and-blue adirondacks scattered across the Dizney Grove. Hours prior in the opening frame, Langford slid into second face-first on a steal, but his chin caught the second baseman’s knee. He spent the game’s five-hour-long rain delay at the dentist; two teeth needed to be put back into place.
Before the dentist could even pass an insurance claim, Langford was back on the field cracking homer No. 26.
Even though Florida ended its season unable to bring the tying run home, Langford etched his name into the archives, tying LaPorta’s 2005 single-season home run record.
Before the 2022 season, only seven Gators hit 20 or more home runs in a single season — junior center fielder Jud Fabian most recently hit 20 in 2021. As Langford continued to rack up multi-HR games throughout the spring campaign, his name entered the hallowed air of UF batters.
Entering the regional final against Oklahoma, he needed just one homer to tie the program record.
The occasion was enough to warrant a visit from LaPorta himself; he wanted to see Langford break his record.
“I don't know if I have quite seen anything like this to be completely honest,” UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said May 19. “He’s got the flair for the dramatic.”
Langford grew up in the shadow of the college baseball cathedral he would one day reign over. He lived in Trenton –- a town of 2,042 just a 40-minute drive from Condron Ballpark. He began talking with O’Sullivan his sophomore year, but the recruiting process was a formality, he said. Langford grew up with season tickets for Gators football games; he talked only to UF throughout high school.
Langford was primarily a catcher for the Trenton High School Tigers, although he saw occasional playtime at third base and on the mound.
Despite lacking the velocity of other arms, Langford knew how to strike batters out with his baseball IQ, Tigers head coach Scott Hall said.
“Nobody out-worked him,” Hall said.
His affinity for homers was evident. His senior year, Langford rocketed a ball over the Dunnellon High School outfielders, past the right-field wall and across the dusty two-lane road that runs through the school and off the band building.
The legend of the “Trenton Thunder” was born.
After an illustrious career at Trenton, including a 2017 state championship his freshman year, Langford headed to Gainesville for his freshman year, where his only in-person activities during the COVID-19 pandemic were at the ballpark.
One year and one day prior to homer, Langford saw Florida’s 2021 regional collapse as a freshman catcher in the bullpen. The Gators folded on the biggest stage: a 19-1 loss to South Alabama.
“It was a quiet one, for sure,” Langford said about the loss.
The eventual All-Region and second-team All-American slugger’s time in the crowded bullpen prevented him from starting a game all season; he recorded only four at-bats.
In the age of the transfer portal, many athletes would see that sort of season and shift to another program. Langford didn’t.
“I just put my head down and worked,” he said.
The minimal play time gave him extra time in the gym, Langford said. Instead of working out twice a week like most starters, he was going four-to-five times a week.
With ten extra pounds from his regiment, Langford stepped up to bat for the Charlottesville Tom Sox in the Virginia-based Valley League, a collegiate summer league affiliated with the MLB.
He received an All-Valley League selection on the back of a .345 batting average, clearly benefiting from the extra reps at the plate that he was unable to find in the season.
After an October scrimmage against Georgia Southern, O’Sullivan slid Langford to left field, a position he’d never played before. Langford let a groundball roll past him to the left-field wall on the first day of practice, but O’Sullivan stuck by his unconventional decision. He saw the sophomore’s hitting and knew he needed to be in the lineup.
“It took some getting used to,” Langford said. “I’ve only been playing it for less than a year so I’m still learning the outfield.”
Langford started all 66 of UF’s games in left field. On opening night against Liberty Feb. 18 he announced his presence with a solo homer in the second inning.
The Trenton Thunder took over Condron.
A team-wide tailspin culminated in a sweep at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers forced Langford to become the leadoff man, previously batting fourth.
He proved O’Sullivan right with a solo homer to left-center field. Leadoff homers became a trend; Langford blasted a ball out of the park in his first AB of the game four times after taking over the spot in the lineup.
“It’s kind of absurd,” freshman designated hitter Jac Caglianone said of Langford’s hitting after Florida defeated South Carolina, 14-5, May 19.
Shortly after the season ended, Langford received one of the highest honors in collegiate baseball: an invitation to the 2022 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team Training Camp. He will compete against the nation’s best before returning to campus for his junior season in 2023.
A year removed from last summer’s Valley League, Langford is no longer a hometown kid just trying to crack the lineup.
Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.