It started with a fly ball to right field, hanging in the air for about five or six seconds, carrying nothing but Wil Dalton’s pride.
It landed in the glove of Siena outfielder Matt Hamel just west of the foul line, and Dalton trotted back toward the batter’s box. He picked up his stick of metal, tapped its knob in the clay and continued his walk.
On his second at-bat, a similar result: Dalton skied a popup to right again, it found Hamel’s glove again, and Dalton made the journey back to the dugout again. But this time, he’d moved catcher JJ Schwarz to third base on a sacrifice fly, so he skipped toward his bat. He picked it up, smacked the barrel in his palm and walked to the dugout once again.
On his third at-bat, he couldn’t hit himself or the ground with his bat. The sophomore junior college transfer’s scorching smack to left field put him on first base, gave the Gators a one-run lead and granted him his first hit at Florida. Dalton was a bright spot among the duo of Florida’s new position players who saw the field in Friday night’s season-opening 7-1 win over Siena. Shortstop Brady McConnell and pitcher Jordan Butler also contributed as newcomers.
“I’m not gonna say I was nervous,” Dalton said, likely encapsulating the feelings of the others, “but there was a lot of anxiousness.”
Dalton finished the game 1 for 4 with the one sacrifice fly and the one RBI. He also helped himself out on the bases.
After his sixth-inning single, he read a ball in the dirt and kicked up clay as he sprinted toward second base. He was halfway there when Siena’s catcher noticed he was running on the delayed steal, and the throw arrived about a second and a half late.
“He can really run,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
McConnell, meanwhile, couldn’t get a hit early on. In fact, he couldn’t sky a ball to right field or anywhere else, as he struck out three times on his first three at-bats. That included a wild swing and miss to end Florida’s seventh-inning scoring threat by stranding teammate Blake Reese at second base. The misfire on a high fastball led McConnell to toss his bat about 10 feet toward the dugout.
But his biggest misfire was in the field.
With a chance to end Siena’s fourth inning, McConnell charged a fairly standard ground ball. It wasn’t an easy play, but it wasn’t terribly difficult either. And anyway, it didn’t really matter. McConnell wasn’t close.
The ball scooted under his glove and into left field, giving Siena its only run and Florida its only error of the night.
“It didn’t feel good,” McConnell said, his eyes facing the grass.
However, McConnell found redemption in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The game was already out of hand — his team had a four-run lead — but McConnell was swinging for pride and confidence. He boosted both with one swing.
“I knew it was gone,” he said.
The ball sailed in a rainbow arc to left field, and just seemed to keep carrying and carrying until Siena’s left fielder ran out of room. McConnell was one of two Gators players to homer in the season opener.
“I thought that was a big at-bat for him,” said O’Sullivan, who added he was happy to see his shortstop get some confidence after looking down following his string of strikeouts.
Freshman left-hander Jordan Butler was the only other Florida newcomer who played on opening night. He came out of the bullpen in the eighth inning to relieve starter Brady Singer.
Butler was perhaps the most impressive of them all, striking out three batters in his first inning of work out of his fast-paced, slingshot of a sidearm delivery.
He struck out one more in the ninth before inducing a game-ending double play.
“You could just see the competitive spirit he has,” O’Sullivan said. “It was nice to get him out there too.”