Reagan Walsh steps up to the plate in her backyard. Her imaginary teammates just loaded the bases, and she has the chance to hit a walk-off grand slam to take down one of the Gators’ biggest rivals.
She just has one person standing in her way: her father, John Walsh.
John was forced into the villain role as Reagan pretended to live out her dream of playing on the Gators before she joined UF’s team.
“I would pitch to her, and she would be in the Florida Gators’ lineup,” John said. “I would always be the Alabama pitcher trying to strike her out.”
Reagan and her father, a former quarterback for Brigham Young University, bond over their shared passion for sports. The father has helped his daughter develop as an athlete and pushes her to be the best person possible, on and off the field.
Walsh has always wanted to be a Florida Gator, John Walsh said. Now, he supports her through her once-destined collegiate career at UF.
“Since she was little, I coached her, just like many of the dads on the Florida Gators’ [team] did,” he said.
Before Walsh had started her collegiate journey, her dad was her hitting coach, she said.
"[My dad] would always take me down to the park to hit off the tee, throw a front toss and just support me in every way he can," Walsh said. "He was basically my hitting coach from the start until now,” she said.
John Walsh wishes he could go back and do it all over again, he said. He loved spending time with her and creating memories and is proud of where she is now.
The moments he spent with Reagan Walsh — coaching and parenting her — when she was just a little girl were some of the best moments of his life, he said.
Reagan Walsh's dream has always been to play for Florida, she said; she watched them play when she was young.
"I remember watching Kelsey Bruder, all those Florida athletes, and I just wanted to play for Coach Walton ever since I was in middle school," she said.
Walsh, as an 8 or 9 year old, was a fan of Bruder, Megan Bush and all the women on the team, John Walsh said.
Her dad has always supported her passion for playing for Florida, even though she’s far from her home in Redondo Beach, California. He and his wife try to go to at least two or three home tournaments a year, he said.
"It was her dream to be a Florida Gator from a very young age, so when she got the opportunity, I didn't want to take that from her," he said.
John Walsh, as a former college athlete, worked with Reagan to help prepare before she arrived at Florida. Walsh's father was the former starting quarterback at Brigham Young during the 1993 and 1994 seasons.
"The workouts he had me doing definitely prepared me mentally and physically for a higher level, so he had an impact on my growth as a person and an athlete," Reagan Walsh said.
Her growth as an athlete and as a Gator was made possible by the support of her parents and teammates, she said.
Walsh — who’s near the end of her second year — recognized she has support from her father, teammates and coaches, she said.
"The people at the University of Florida are great and have definitely impacted me as a player, but also as a person," Walsh said.
Her fellow Gators have noticed her confidence in her ability to change positions on the field when things get tough.
"I've seen her work and the growth she has had,” UF shortstop Skylar Wallace said. “I think she's known you're not going to be perfect at all times."
Walsh has displayed confidence and an eagerness to win to the fans who come out to support her in Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. She batted in a season-high six runs against Illinois State Feb. 11 and has a batting average of 0.353 this season.
Her control at bat and ability to find the right pitch is big in late innings, Wallace said.
Walsh was set to fill the hole left by the departure of former Florida graduate student infielder Hannah Adams as she entered her sophomore season.
“Working with Coach Walton every single day at practice, and him killing me at second base, I think, is all worth it,” Walsh said. “Hannah was such a great athlete; it's an awesome experience to be able to play second.”
Walsh and her father share a passion for sports and the competitiveness that comes with it. However, a line is drawn between his support for her as a father and giving her advice as a former athlete who understands the hardships of being an athlete, John Walsh said. He has to push her and be hard on her so she will succeed, he said.
"As a parent, I just want to love and support her — tell her it's all right,” he said. “Then on the other hand, you have to be competitive, and you have to push her to make sure she knows you have to do better, and you can do this.”
He will forever support his daughter, he said. As a former athlete playing at a competitive level, he’s been hard on Reagan and understands the tough times she might face, he said.
"It's a tough balance,” he said. “But I love her and let her know that.”
Alyssa Britton-Harr is a second-year journalism major and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys cheering on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spending time with her friends.